Washington Notification of Rights FAQ
By Erik Bjornson, Attorney at Law
- With all of the blank forms on the Internet, Can't I just improvise and do my own divorce?
The blank forms online are only a small part of the divorce process and the considerations for obtaining a dissolution. An analogy is the case where someone might obtain dental instruments and a manual on dental procedures and attempts to perform their own dentistry. However, few people would be able to produce acceptable results.
A skilled attorney in Washington is versed in Washington State law and how the Washington courts interpret the law. There are often additional considerations should the divorce concern real estate, retirement plans, or if one of the parties is, or has been in the military. Furthermore, Washington Civil Rules issued by the Washington Supreme Court must be followed if one is to receive relief from the court. Many counties, including Pierce, King and Kitsap County have local court rules issued by court system that must be strictly followed as well if one is going to obtain any relief from the court.
Finally, an improperly obtained divorce can many times be set aside by the court at a later time if something was done improperly. This can be very time consuming and expensive. As a general principle, people are entitled to represent themselves in either criminal or civil court. However, whether it is a wise choice is another issues.
A skilled Washington attorney typically has a four year undergraduate degree, three years of law school, a knowledge of Washington statutory law (RCWs), a knowledge of Washington case law (Washington State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals cases), the general Washington Civil Rules of Civil Procedure, and the local court rules of the county where he or she is representing the client. Finally, the attorney should know the law concerning real estate, if necessary and any applicable Federal Statutory and case law.
- If a divorce in "uncontested" can't I simply try to improvise my own divorce?
Some of the most egregious and expensive problems occur when a case is "uncontested" as the parties often fail completely to realize what their rights are and the legal effect of the documents they are drafting. Hiring an attorney after mistakes have been made can end up being much more costly and difficult than if an attorney was hired in the first place. Similarly, a dentist hired to try to fix someone's dental work after the patient has tried themselves can find it difficult and expensive to undo the damage.
- Am I entitled to an attorney? If I have a financially difficult time paying for an attorney, will one be appointed for me?
Yes, you are entitled to hire an attorney to represent you. However, because a divorce action is civil, rather than criminal, in nature, you are not entitled to a court appointed lawyer at the public's expense.
- I am in the military. How are my rights affected by Washington State Law? What additional issues apply to me?
If you or your spouse are in the military and you are considering a divorce, are in a divorce action, or have been divorced, you should take extra care to make sure your attorney understands the following issues:
- Protection of military retirement
- Disability issues
- Legal Protection from defaulting in civil actions
- Special jurisdictional protections
- Special protection from military disability pay being divided
The legal issues concerning those in the military in divorce issues are often more complex than when both parties are civilians. In addition to issues such as the custody of the children, child support issues and property division, those in the military must also be concerned with their military pension which has significant value.