How to get divorced in Washington

Tags: Online Divorce, Washington

Image: Roman Slavik / iStock

By Steffan Lawson

Published Jul 29, 2022

Washington divorce requirements

  • Either your spouse or you must be a resident of Washington to file for divorce in the state for any amount of time. There is no specific length of time for you to reside in the state.

  • You can file for divorce as long as your spouse or you have established your residency. In order to prove your residency, you must have your permanent home in Washington and should demonstrate the intent to make it your primary home.

  • While determining your residency, the Washington court will also take into considerations things like your mailing address, driver’s license and voter registration.

  • You can file for divorce in the Family Court or Superior Court depending on the county where you reside.

  • There is a minimum waiting period of 3 months from the date the divorce petition is filed with the court and served on your spouse and before the court can finalize your divorce.

Grounds for divorce

Washington is completely a “no-fault” divorce state and the only “reason” or “ground” for divorce is that your marriage is “broken irretrievably”. Washington does not let couples to assign blame or get into the reasons why the marriage “broke down”.

According to the state law, it is necessary for only one spouse to believe that the marriage cannot be saved and the court will grant a divorce although the other spouse does not agree.

Step 1: Starting your divorce

Preparing the Documents

There are a number of forms that must be completed to file for divorce in Washington. Below are the details of some of the forms that must be filled by the divorcing couple, although there could be more forms apart from these.

Documents Needed for Filing for Divorce

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: This form has all the details of the marriage, the spouses, children, has details of the terms and conditions regarding property division, proposed parenting plan and relief sought.

  • Summons: This informs the respondent about the divorce action and gives him/her 20 days to file an Answer if he/she is within Washington State or 60 days if he/she is being served outside the state.

  • Acceptance of Service: This confirms that the respondent has received the Petition and Summons.

  • Response to Petition: This form is used by the respondent to admit/deny the allegations in the divorce Petition and requests relief.

  • Joinder: Lets the respondent join the action of the petitioner.

  • Decree of Dissolution: This form ends the marriage and defines the terms and conditions pertaining to division of assets and debts, alimony, parenting plans and child support.

  • Parenting Plan: This form describes the terms and conditions of child custody and visitation.

  • Declaration in Support of Parenting Plan: Must be filled out by both spouses and defines the position of each spouse in case the custody of the child is disputed.

  • Order of Child Support: Orders the payment of child support as required.

  • Motion and Declaration for Default: Declared a default when the respondent has been served properly and does not answer within the time limit or has failed to make an appearance.

  • Motion and Declaration of Service by Publication: This is filed after the petitioner has made all efforts to locate the spouse who is missing and can’t/won’t accept the service of process.

  • Summons by Publication: When the Summons are published in the newspaper and gives the spouse who is missing 60 days to file a response or face default judgment against him/her.

  • Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets: These worksheets are used to calculate child support.

  • Financial Declaration: This form must be filled out by both spouses and declares their monthly income and expenditure.

Filing Your Forms

Once you have gathered all the forms necessary to file for divorce and have filled them out, you must file them in the right county.

Washington State lets you file the papers in the county where you live or where your spouse resides. Non-residents also have the option of filing their papers in Lincoln County; however, both spouses must agree to file for divorce in Lincoln County before the divorce case can be opened there.

Step 2: Notifying your spouse

Once you file the papers with the court of the appropriate county, according to the state law, you must serve your spouse.

You can either serve the papers via the sheriff for a fee or you can employ a professional process server to deliver the documents to your spouse.

You can also publish the notice of the divorce in your local newspaper if you are unable to locate your spouse. If your spouse voluntarily joins the case, then there is no need for service and in Washington, this is called as Joinder to the Petition.

Step 3: Contested or uncontested?

Contested Divorce (High Costs)

If both parties are not able to come to an agreement regarding the terms of the divorce, then this is known as a contested divorce, which usually goes to trial.

At the divorce hearing, the judge will hear both sides of the case and the testimony presented by the lawyers of both the parties and also review the witnesses and evidence.

The judge will take a decision on all the disputed issues before issuing the final divorce order which finalizes the divorce.

Uncontested Divorce (Low Costs)

If your spouse and you agree on all the terms and conditions of the divorce like division of property and debtsalimony and child custody and support, then you qualify for an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is not only easier, but it is also significantly cheaper too compared to a contested divorce.

If your spouse and you have agreed on some of the issues but not all of them and you want to work together to resolve the issues peacefully and efficiently, then you can consider mediation to try and work out the disputed issues.

Step 4: DIY or get a lawyer?

DIY divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)

If your divorce is not complicated and is an uncontested one, then you have the option of a DIY divorce if you don’t want to employ the services of a divorce lawyer. By completing the process on your own, you can save both time and money. You can get all the forms needed to file for divorce from the local court or you can get the “do-it-yourself” packets from the Washington Court website that provides the forms required at the stage you require them.

You will require more than one packets of forms to file and finalize your divorce. The number of packets you require depends on your specific case. You must read the Filing packet very carefully and determine what are the packets you will need to file your divorce.

If you and your spouse agree on all the issues and do not have minor children from the marriage, then you can use these guided interviews that will ask you questions regarding your marriage and once you answer them, your divorce forms will be assembled.

Or, if you are filling out the forms on your own, take time and fill the forms carefully and legibly without any mistakes. Once you have completed the forms, you can sign them and file them at the county court where you or your spouse resides along with the appropriate filing fee.

Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)

You can make use of an online divorce service to complete your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage for a divorce in Washington. The online service will prepare all your documents required to file for divorce as per your circumstances, in a format that will be accepted by the Washington court.

You need to answer questions about your marriage and the online service will prepare the divorce documents for you. You can then print the forms and file your divorce petition with the court clerk along with the filing fee. Using an online divorce service can help to save you time and money.

We recommend 3StepDivorce as the top online divorce service provider and you can get started for as little as $84.

Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)

Usually, most of the divorce cases get settled before they go to trial and often, both spouses attend mediation and resolve their issues.

However, despite this, if your spouse and you don’t reach an agreement on all the issues, then the divorce case will go to trial, where it will be heard by the judge.

The judge will hear both sides of the case and take decisions regarding the various disputed issues. Usually, when the divorce case goes to trial, it is recommended that both spouses employ divorce attorneys who can present and argue the case on their behalf. Divorce trials are usually very expensive and also take a very long time.

Step 5: The main issues

Property division

In the case of dissolution of marriage, the property and debts and divided between your spouse and you. Each spouse will keep his/her property, which is essentially the property acquired:

  • By inheritance or gift at any time

  • Before marriage

  • An increase in the value of or income from separate property

All other property is marital or community property and this is divided after considering the following factors:

  • The extent and nature of separate property

  • The extent and nature of marital or community property

  • Length of the marriage

  • Economic circumstance of each spouse

  • If the spouse having the custody of the child should remain in the marital home

  • Any other relevant factors

Alimony / Spousal Support

Alimony or spousal support is called maintenance in Washington. Your spouse and you may have an agreement regarding the maintenance and if not, then the judge will decide whether or not to grant maintenance, the duration and the amount after taking into consideration the following factors:

  • Length of the marriage.

  • Standard of living maintained during the marriage.

  • Age, emotional and physical condition of both spouses and financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance.

  • Financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance including marital or separate property distributed to him/her and the capability to meet his/her requirements independently.

  • The time required to obtain sufficient training or education to help the spouse seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment for his/her skills, lifestyle, interests and other circumstances.

  • The ability of the spouse paying maintenance to meet his/her financial obligations and needs while also paying maintenance.

  • Any other relevant factors.

Child Custody & Support Laws

If you have minor children with your spouse, there will be a custody determination and also figuring out the manner in which decisions will be taken, how the time of the child will be divided between the parents, etc. Each spouse must submit a proposed PPP (permanent parenting plan). However, if your spouse and you reach an agreement, you can submit a joint PPP.

In case there is no agreement, then there will be a settlement conference that is scheduled before the court commissioner or judge to resolve the issue. And, if you are unable to reach an agreement, then the judge will take a decision as per the following guidelines:

One parent will be given the sole authority to make decisions if:

  • The other spouse’s authority is limited due to refusal or abandonment to perform the parenting functions, history of domestic violence or abuse of the child.

  • Both the parents are not agreeable to mutual decision making.

  • One of the parents is not agreeable to mutual decision making.

The court may consider the following factors and order mutual decision-making authority:

  • History of the participation of each parent in decision making.

  • The desire and ability of both parents to cooperate in the decision making.

  • The geographic proximity of both parents to each other, related to timely decision making.

The court will make provisions regarding the residence of the child which encourages each of the parents to maintain a stable, loving and nurturing relationship with the child and also establish a schedule which considers the following aspects:

  • Developmental level and emotional needs of the child.

  • Nature, stability and strength of the child’s relationship with each parent.

  • Any voluntary and knowing agreements of the parents.

  • Each parent’s past and future performance of the parenting functions, including if one parent has taken a greater level of responsibility for the day-to-day parenting functions.

  • Relationship of the child with his/her siblings and other adults and the involvement of the child with his/her school, physical surroundings and other activities.

  • The parents’ wishes and child’s wishes, if the child is sufficiently mature.

  • Employment schedule of each parent.

Step 6: Finalizing your divorce in Washington

Once you have filed your divorce forms with the court, you need to wait for a minimum of 90 days at least before the court schedules a final hearing. This waiting period or “cooling off period” gives both spouses the opportunity to try and arrive at an agreement on all the issues pertaining to the case. If your divorce is not contested and you agree on all the issues with your spouse, then the case does not have to go to trial.

However, if your spouse and you cannot come to an agreement on any of the issues, then the case becomes contested and will go to court. This is expensive, as well as a lengthy process. When the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is signed by the court, then the marriage ends.

The settlement agreement document is submitted to the court in writing in a settlement case for approval and signature of the judge. In the case of a trial, the decision of the judge is documented and signed by the judge conducting the trial. And, the marriage does not end until the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage is signed by the judge.