How To File For Divorce In Washington

by ECL Writer
Cost Of Divorce In Washington State

How To File For Divorce In Washington – Divorce can be a difficult and emotional process, but navigating the legal system doesn’t have to be. If you’re considering filing for divorce in the state of Washington, it’s essential to understand the steps involved in the process. From filling out the necessary paperwork to negotiating the terms of your settlement, there are a lot of details to consider. But with the right guidance, you can successfully navigate the legal process and come out the other side ready to start the next chapter of your life.

In this guide, Eastcoastlaw.com will provide a step-by-step overview of the divorce process in Washington, including tips for finding the right attorney, understanding the legal requirements, and preparing for court appearances. Whether you’re just starting to consider a divorce or you’re already in the midst of the process, this guide will provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions and move forward with confidence.

Understanding The Legal Requirements For Divorce In Washington

To file for divorce in Washington, you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least 90 days. Additionally, Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that either spouse can file for divorce without proving fault or wrongdoing by the other spouse. Grounds for divorce in Washington include irreconcilable differences or the breakdown of the marriage.

It’s essential to have a clear understanding of the legal requirements for divorce in Washington before you begin the process. Working with an experienced divorce attorney can help ensure that you comply with all necessary legal requirements and navigate the process successfully.

What To Do Before You File For A Washington Divorce

There are several things you should determine and prepare for before you officially file your divorce papers.

Residency And Jurisdiction Requirement For Divorce In Washington

In contrast to many other states, Washington does not impose a specific residency duration requirement for you or your spouse before filing for divorce. The key requirement is that either of you must be a resident of the state (or stationed there as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces) on the date of filing (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030 (2023)).

However, it’s important to note that Washington courts have consistently interpreted “resident” in this context to mean having domicile in the state, indicating that it is your permanent and fixed home where you intend to stay indefinitely.

Furthermore, it’s worth understanding that there are stricter criteria for the court to establish “personal jurisdiction” over the other spouse (referred to as the “respondent”) or your children. Personal jurisdiction rules can be complex, but they essentially restrict a judge’s ability to include specific orders in the final divorce decree, even if those orders are based on mutual agreement between the spouses. For instance:

  • If you file for divorce in Washington but your spouse does not reside in the state and has never lived there during the marriage, the judge may not have the authority to divide your property or order your spouse to provide support. However, there are a few exceptions where the court may have jurisdiction over your spouse, such as if one of your children was conceived in the state (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.28.185, 26.09.080 (2023)).
  • Generally, your divorce decree may not include a parenting plan or custody orders unless Washington was the “home state” of the affected children when you filed for divorce. This means that the children lived in Washington with a parental figure for at least six months, or since birth, if they are under six months old. However, if your children moved out of state within the six-month period preceding the divorce filing, the court may still have jurisdiction over them if Washington was their home state before the move or if no other state qualifies as their home state (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 26.27.021(7), 26.27.201 (2023)).

Choosing A Divorce Process: Contested Vs. Uncontested Divorce?

Once you’ve decided to pursue a divorce, the next step is to determine which type of divorce process is right for you. In Washington, there are two primary types of divorce: contested and uncontested.

A contested divorce occurs when you and your spouse cannot agree on one or more of the terms of your divorce, such as child custody, spousal support, or property division. In a contested divorce, a judge will ultimately make these decisions on your behalf.

An uncontested divorce occurs when you and your spouse agree on all terms of your divorce. This type of divorce is typically faster, less expensive, and less stressful than a contested divorce.

When pursuing a DIY divorce or utilizing an online divorce service, filing for an uncontested divorce is typically the most straightforward option available. It is important to be aware of the two fundamental requirements for an uncontested divorce in Washington from the beginning:

  • Both you and your spouse must agree that your marriage is irretrievably broken, as this is the sole legal ground for divorce recognized under Washington law (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030 (2023)).
  • It is also necessary to have a marital settlement agreement, which may be referred to as a separation agreement in Washington. This agreement should address all the pertinent legal matters involved in the termination of your marriage. These include the division of property and debts, spousal support (referred to as “alimony” in Washington), and if you have minor children, child support, child custody, and parenting arrangements (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.070 (2023)).

In the absence of an agreement on all these issues, your divorce will be considered contested, at least initially. However, it is possible to attempt to reach a settlement agreement at any stage of the process, whether prior to filing or shortly before the trial, with the assistance of divorce mediation or legal professionals.

Getting and Preparing Washington’s Divorce Forms

In Washington State, it is mandatory to use the official court forms when filing for divorce. These forms can be downloaded for free or obtained in hard copy from your local county courthouse. Washington Law Help also provides an online DIY packet with instructions to assist you.

The primary form to initiate the divorce process is the petition for divorce (FL Divorce 201). Similar to divorce complaints in other states, this petition includes information about your property, minor children, and the need for spousal support, along with your desired resolutions for these matters.

In Washington, you have the option to file the divorce petition jointly with your spouse. By co-signing this form and the Agreement to Join Petition (FL All Family 119), the respondent agrees that the court may approve all the requests in the petition unless the respondent files a formal answer before the judge signs the final orders (more details below). When filing a joint petition, you can skip the Summons form and other forms related to the service of the petition (as described below).

There is a separate form and attachment for providing confidential information. If you have minor children, you may also need to prepare specific forms including:

When filing the paperwork for an uncontested divorce, you can expedite the process by attaching the required forms to finalize the divorce, such as Findings and Conclusions About a Marriage (FL Divorce 231) and the Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241), both signed and notarized by both spouses.

It is important to note that some counties may have their own rules and forms, so it is advisable to check with the court clerk’s office in the county where you intend to file your divorce papers for more information. If your county has a “courthouse facilitator” (which most do), you can reach out to them for assistance. Although they cannot provide legal advice, facilitators can help you select the appropriate forms and ensure their completion, explain any unfamiliar legal terms, assist with calculating child support based on your financial information, review your completed forms for accuracy, and provide details about local court procedures and requirements. They can also refer you to other services if needed (Wash. Gen. Rules, rule 27 (2023)).

Filing For divorce In Washington

To file for divorce in Washington, you’ll need to complete and file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the court in the county where you or your spouse lives. The petition will include information about your marriage, such as the date of your marriage, your grounds for divorce, and the terms you’re seeking in your divorce, such as child custody, support, and property division.

Once you’ve filed your petition, you’ll need to serve a copy of the petition on your spouse. This can be done by a process server, sheriff, or someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case. You’ll also need to file proof of service with the court to show that your spouse has been served with the petition.

Washington’s Requirements For Serving And Responding To Divorce Papers

Unless you have filed a joint divorce petition, it will be necessary to serve your spouse with all the divorce papers you have filed (excluding the confidential information form and attachment) along with a completed Summons form.

There are various methods for carrying out what is referred to as “service of process”:

  • Your spouse may agree to receive the paperwork informally by signing a Service Accepted form (FL All Family 117).
  • If your spouse does not provide acceptance, you will need to arrange for someone (typically a professional process server, sheriff, or any unrelated adult) to personally deliver the documents to your spouse.
  • If you have been unable to locate or personally serve your spouse, you can request permission from the court to serve the documents through mail or by publishing a notice in a local newspaper. To do this, you will need to file a Motion to Serve by Mail or Motion to Serve by Publication (FL All Family 104, 108).

Once you have completed the service of papers, file the Service Accepted form or Proof of Personal Service (FL All Family 101) with the court. If you served your spouse out of state, including the Declaration: Personal Service Could Not be Made in Washington (FL All Family 102) as well (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.28.080, 4.28.100, 4.28.110; Wash. Sup. Ct. Civil Rules, rule 4 (2023)).

If you have children who have received public assistance (TANF) or Medicaid or are in foster care or out-of-home placement, it is also necessary to serve copies of your divorce papers in the State of Washington.

After being served with the divorce papers, your spouse will have a specific timeframe to file a response. In Washington, this is 20 days if personally served within the state or 60 days if personally served out of state or through publication. If the respondent fails to respond within the allotted time (and has not joined in the petition), the petitioner may request a default divorce.

Negotiating A Settlement Agreement

If you and your spouse are unable to agree on the terms of your divorce, you may need to negotiate a settlement agreement. This can be done through mediation, where a neutral third party helps you and your spouse reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce.

If you’re unable to reach an agreement through mediation, your case may go to trial, where a judge will make decisions on your behalf. It’s important to work with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you receive a fair settlement.

Going To Court For Divorce Proceedings

If your divorce case goes to trial, you’ll need to attend court proceedings, including pre-trial conferences, hearings, and possibly a trial. It’s essential to be prepared for these proceedings and to work closely with your attorney to present your case effectively.

During court proceedings, you’ll need to provide evidence to support your position on issues such as child custody, support, and property division. Your attorney can help you prepare for court appearances and ensure that your legal rights are protected throughout the process.

Finalizing Your Divorce In Washington

Once all terms of your divorce have been agreed upon or decided by a judge, a final order of dissolution will be entered by the court. This order will include the terms of your divorce, such as child custody, support, and property division.

It’s important to follow the terms of your final order of dissolution to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you avoid any legal consequences for non-compliance. Working with an experienced divorce attorney can help ensure that your legal rights are protected throughout the process.

Post-Divorce Considerations And Resources

After your divorce is finalized, there are several post-divorce considerations to keep in mind. You may need to update your estate planning documents, such as your will and trust, to reflect your new marital status. You may also need to update your beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

Additionally, there are several resources available to help you navigate the emotional and financial challenges of divorce. Support groups, counseling, and financial planning services can all be helpful resources during and after the divorce process.

Conclusion

Divorce can be a difficult and emotional process, but with the right guidance, you can successfully navigate the legal system and move forward with confidence. Understanding the legal requirements, choosing the right divorce process, and working with an experienced divorce attorney can all help ensure a successful outcome. By following the steps outlined in this guide and seeking out the resources you need, you can successfully navigate the divorce process in Washington and start the next chapter of your life.

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