As I have mentioned before a divorce or legal separation, in the state of Washington, is a lawsuit. And like any lawsuit there is a need to have the Respondent (the person being served with the Petition (lawsuit)) “participate” in the case. I am going to assume that the Respondent does plan to participate in the divorce action. If he/she does not participate and there is a “default” entered by the court, against him/her, then the Petitioner will get everything that they have asked for in the formal Petition (which is a different issue).
The two options that the Respondent has in a typical divorce or legal separation case is to file a formal response to the Petition or sign a “joinder” stating that he/she agrees with all of the requests in the Petition. The joinder language is at the end of the Petition form, put out by the state of Washington (which would be signed at the time the Petition is prepared and prior to be filed with the court). There is also a separate joinder form, for those situations where the Petition has already been filed but the Respondent wants to “join in” the Petition.
As a general rule I never recommend that a Respondent sign a joinder in a case (unless the case does not involve children, no property and no debts). There are several reasons for this. The most important is the fact that by signing the joinder, one is giving up any ability to have a final say in how all of the issues are resolved. This may depend on the exact language in the Petition, regarding how all of the issues are addressed. As an example, the Petition may have specific language regarding how all of the property and debts are divided and even include a proposed parenting plan. But it will not address how much the child support is set at and you do not have any absolute guarantee that what the Petitioner requests in the Petition will be exactly what they place in the final documents to complete the divorce or legal separation (a good judge will catch this, but many times they do not).
Given the minimal time and energy needed to file a formal response, it is almost always better to make sure you are actively involved in preparing the final documents used to finalize a divorce or legal separation. While it may make it appear as if the case is a bit more “adversarial” than it really is, it is a safeguard that you want to have. There are many issues involved in resolving a case, especially if there are children involved. Being able to review each paragraph of all of the documents (hopefully with a knowledgeable family law attorney) will make sure you get a fair settlement and minimize any potential for problems after the case is done.
This blog article is not intended to convey legal advice, but only address some of the general rules. Most legal issues, in family law cases, depend on the specific facts. Should you wish to discuss your particular situation with the Law Office of Thomas A. Chillquist, please call or email my office. I am a family law lawyer (divorce attorney) and I represent parties in family law, and divorce, matters in King and Pierce County, Washington, including Kent, Federal Way, Covington, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Fife, Auburn, Seattle, Bellevue, Puyallup, Orting, Tacoma and Mercer Island. Copyright Thomas A. Chillquist