Family Law

We also provide skilled representation for our clients in all phases of the divorce and child custody process, property division, modification and enforcement of existing orders with sensitivity and care. Our attorneys speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese and have a strong record of assisting Chinese and other Asian families dealing with difficult family issues.

We welcome the opportunity to explain our services, analyze your situation, and discuss your options as you look to the future. Contact The Law Offices of Dennis Lam and schedule an initial consultation.


Divorce (or Dissolution of Marriage) can be a difficult experience. It is a complicated and emotional time, during which you and your spouse must divide all of your property and debts. If there are children from the marriage, you must file both a parenting plan and a child support order. Washington is a no fault state, which means no wrongdoing needs to be proved in order to be entitled to a divorce, which requires no grounds other than “irreconcilable differences.” Either person may file a petition for divorce. One party can get a divorce even if the other wants to remain married.

If the couple is in agreement about the terms of the divorce, there is still a minimum period of 90 days from the time the case is started before the divorce can be final. The ninety days is intended to provide us with a cooling off period when we can decide whether or not we really do wish to have a divorce. If the couple is unable to reach an agreement, it may take much longer. The time it takes to reach trial varies from county to county, but around a year is fairly typical.

Washington is a community property state that looks at divorce issues differently than any other state in the nation. Family law judges have very specific requirements and expectations relating to custody, valuation of assets, spousal support and equitable distribution of marital property.

Property Division

Washington is a community property state. Community property belongs to both parties. Community property is property that was acquired during the marriage that was not gifted to or inherited by one party. However, if the couple lived together before the marriage that may also be considered part of the community period. Property that is not community is the separate property of one of the parties. Property will generally be presumed to be community if you cannot prove that it is separate. Property can also be partly separate and partly community, such as with an IRA that was contributed to both before and during the marriage.

In a divorce, all property is to be divided in a manner that is fair and equitable. That means that the judge has wide discretion in deciding the proper disposition of assets and liabilities. Separate property and debts will usually be awarded to the party that acquired them, while community property and debts will normally be divided equally. However, in order to achieve an overall fair result, the court can award one party a larger share of the community property and even the separate property of the other spouse. The relative incomes of the parties may be considered in deciding what is an overall fair result.

Spousal Support

Spousal maintenance, previously called alimony, is a payment one spouse pays to the other spouse for financial support. Spousal support is often used to balance, to some degree, the financial positions of the parties after divorce. Awards of maintenance are based on the need of one spouse and ability to pay of the other spouse. The dollar amount and duration of the maintenance depends on the facts of each individual case. Generally, the longer the marriage the larger the potential for a greater duration of maintenance. As the court considers what is fair many factors could be take into consideration:

  • Earning capacity of both parties
  • Marketable skills of the party seeking maintenance
  • Accustomed standard of living
  • Future earning capacity caused by periods of unemployment
  • Contributions made toward the education of the supporting party
  • Debts and financial assets of both parties

 Child Support

Child support is required by law. The proper calculation and payment of child support is essential to provide for the living expenses, childcare and education of your children. Child support in Washington is set by standard guidelines established by the state legislature. It is generally a mathematical process wherein both parents’ incomes are calculated resulting in a net support obligation to be paid by one parent to the other. The dollar amount of the child support obligation is generally worked out based upon the incomes of the parents. There are other factors which may be relevant.

Parenting Plan

When parents divorce, the divorce decree will specify with whom the children will live, and how often and under what circumstances the other parent will visit with the children. In Washington, we refer to these parenting arrangements as the Parenting Plan

Often, parents work out these arrangements between themselves, either voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator. When they are unable to reach a decision, or when unmarried parents are unable to agree on who will have custody of their child, the court may intervene and make a decision based on the “best interests of the child.”

In many situations, physical custody is awarded to one parent (sole custody). However, often the custodial parent shares “legal custody” of the child with the non-custodial parent. “Legal custody” includes the right to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health care and other important concerns. When one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other parent is granted visitation according to a clear schedule of dates.

In deciding who will have custody, the courts consider various factors. The overriding consideration is always the “best interests of the child.” Often, the main factor is which parent has been the child’s primary caretaker. If the children are old enough, the courts will take their preference into account in making a custody decision. Once entered, a custody award can be changed by the court if the parent’s or children’s circumstances have changed.

Final Decree

Whether you get to this stage by agreement on all the issues or some of the issues or whether a judge has to decide all or some of your issues at a trial, all divorces end in a final decree. The final decree is an order which sets out the terms of all the issues involved in your divorce. The divorce decree will also say that you are divorced from the moment of the signing of that order.