Life can change in unexpected ways. When most people get married, they never expect that their marriage may end because one person is sent to prison. If your spouse is incarcerated and you wish to end the marriage, you don’t have to wait for him or her to get out—the divorce can continue even while he or she is still serving time.

Beginning the Divorce Case

In many ways, filing for divorce from someone who is incarcerated is just like any other divorce. You will still have to serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork, and he or she will still be responsible for responding to the divorce case.

While someone is in custody, it is relatively easy to serve them because the state knows where they are at all times. However, each jail or prison may have its own procedures and rules for making service on inmates. If your spouse refuses to voluntarily accept or sign paperwork, either you or your attorney can work with the jail or prison to have your spouse formally served with documents. The incarcerated person will be responsible for responding to the divorce petition within the time limits and hiring an attorney just like anyone else.

Attending Divorce Hearings

During a divorce case, an incarcerated spouse will have the right to respond to any motions or requests that are made during the case. The incarcerated spouse can also request to attend each hearing, though this request may be denied. If he or she cannot appear in person, an attorney could attend on his or her behalf, or your spouse could request to appear telephonically.

There is one situation where your incarcerated spouse has an absolute right to attend a hearing: if you move to terminate his or her parental rights, he or she must attend the hearing in person before any action can be taken.

Child Support and Custody

An incarcerated spouse can still be ordered to pay child support or spousal support. He or she may need to use outside resources to pay the amounts due, or the state may take any wages that he or she earns while in prison or jail. If the former spouse owed child support payments before being sent to jail or prison, he or she can petition the court to modify the parenting plan to reflect their limited income while incarcerated.

While in prison or jail, a person does not have the right to receive physical custody of any children, and accordingly, does not have the right to receive child support payments. Existing parenting plans should be modified if a person is sentenced to jail or prison to reflect the change in visitation time and child support. Once a person is released from custody, he or she will have the right to petition the court to change the parenting plan or support arrangements.

Help With Your Divorce

While divorcing a person who is currently in jail or prison can be complicated, it is far from impossible. If you need to divorce your spouse because of his or her actions or because of a lengthy prison sentence, an experienced Washington family law attorney can help you follow all the necessary procedures.

At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys are committed to helping you and your family move forward with your lives. If you have concerns about divorcing an incarcerated spouse, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.