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How to File for Divorce in Washington

Curiale Hostnik PLLC April 29, 2024

Filing for divorce is a deeply personal and often challenging process.

In Washington State, the legal proceedings for dissolving a marriage emphasize fairness and mutual consent; however, not all divorces are amicable, and the specific steps for filing for divorce can be complex and require careful, metered decisions. 

If you're looking to file for divorce, it's important to understand your state's divorce laws and the specific steps and considerations you and your spouse will need to take to formalize a divorce. Our team at Curiale Hostnik PLLC has put together this guide to instruct you on how to file for divorce in Washington. 

Legal Grounds for Divorce in Washington 

In Washington, the grounds for divorce follow a "no-fault" law. This means that the spouse filing for divorce does not need to prove any wrongdoing or fault on the part of the other spouse. The primary legal ground for divorce in Washington is the assertion that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" with no prospects for reconciliation.  

This no-fault divorce law reflects an understanding that sometimes, relationships may end without any particular party to blame, and it provides a means for couples to amicably and respectfully dissolve their marriage.

Your Options for Proceeding

In Washington, two main types of divorce are recognized: uncontested and contested.  

  • Uncontested divorce: An uncontested divorce occurs when both spouses agree on all major issues involved in the dissolution of their marriage, including the division of property and debts, child custody and visitation, child support, and alimony. This type of divorce typically results in a quicker and less expensive legal process since there is no need for a trial or court appearance.  

  • Contested divorce: A contested divorce occurs when spouses cannot agree on one or more key issues affecting the terms of their divorce. These divorces often involve court interventions to resolve disputes regarding asset division, child custody and support, and other disagreements. A contested divorce can be significantly more time-consuming and costly due to the need for litigation, legal counsel, and possible trial proceedings.  

It is important to note that there is no requirement for you or your spouse to be a resident of Washington for any specific period before you file for divorce. You only need to reside in the state on the date you file your petition for dissolution of marriage. 

Steps to File for Divorce in Washington 

Filing for divorce in Washington involves specific steps of legal procedures. It's highly advisable to consult with a legal professional to guide you through the process and help you achieve an outcome that is fair, equitable, and in line with Washington law. The steps include: 

  1. Prepare the Necessary Forms: The primary document is the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which outlines the grounds for the divorce and your preferences regarding asset division, child custody, and other relevant matters. You may also need to complete additional forms depending on your county and specific situation. 

  1. File Your Petition: Once your paperwork is prepared, you must file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the clerk of the court in the county where you or your spouse lives. You will be required to pay a filing fee, which is commonly around $300 in Washington. If you cannot afford the fee, you can request a fee waiver. 

  1. Serve Your Spouse: After filing, provide your spouse with a copy of the divorce paperwork. This process, known as serving, can be done through a professional process server, a sheriff's deputy, or, in some cases, by mail if your spouse agrees to accept service in that manner.  

  1. Wait for a Response: Your spouse typically has 20-60 days to respond to the petition, depending on the method of service. Their answer will indicate whether your spouse agrees with the petition or if there are disputed issues that need to be resolved. 

  1. Temporary Orders: If needed, either party can request temporary orders from the court to address immediate issues like child custody, child support, spousal support, or property restraint until the divorce is finalized. This requires filing a motion and attending a hearing. 

  1. Discovery Process: In a contested divorce, both parties exchange information and documents related to the marriage's assets, debts, and other relevant matters. This step is vital for preparing for potential negotiations or a trial. 

  1. Settlement or Trial: Spouses are encouraged to reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation to avoid a trial. If an agreement is reached, they can present a settlement to the court for approval. If not, the divorce will proceed to trial, where a judge will make the final decisions on all contested issues. 

  1. Finalize the Divorce: Once all issues are resolved through settlement or trial, the court will issue a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, officially ending the marriage. Either party has the right to appeal the court's decision within a specific period if they believe any legal error occurred. 

Considerations for the Division of Property and Assets 

Washington is a "community property" state, which means that any property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is considered community property and generally should be divided equally upon divorce.  

However, property owned by one spouse before the marriage, gifts, and inheritances received by one spouse alone, often remain that spouse's separate property and are not subject to division in the divorce. When considering how to divide assets and debts, parties should account for: 

  • The nature of each asset and debt (whether it's community or separate property). 

  • The value of the community property to ensure an equitable division. 

  • The economic circumstances of each spouse when the division of property will be effective 

  • The contributions, including non-monetary contributions, of each spouse to the acquisition and maintenance of the marital property. 

  • The future financial needs and liabilities of each spouse, which might include considerations for retirement savings, health insurance, and ongoing liabilities. 

For debts, it's essential to understand that both spouses might be held responsible for debt incurred together during the marriage. However, debt attributed to one spouse for non-marital purposes might be assigned to that spouse individually. A clear understanding of which debts were incurred for the benefit of the marriage and which were not can significantly affect the division process.  

While Washington law mandates an equal division of community property, it does allow for adjustments based on fairness and equity. This means that the division does not need to be 50/50 if the circumstances justify a deviation. Consulting a legal professional is often crucial to ensure a fair and appropriate division of property, assets, and debts in a divorce. 

Insights into Child Custody and Support Laws 

In Washington, determinations regarding child custody and support during a divorce prioritize the best interests of the child. The court considers several factors to ensure that the child's emotional, physical, and educational needs are met while promoting a stable and loving environment. These often include: 

  • The child's age. 

  • The child's health. 

  • The child's emotional ties to each parent. 

  • Each parent's living situation. 

  • Each parent's ability to provide a home, care, and stability for the child. 

  • Any history of neglect or abuse. 

Child support calculations are determined according to the Washington State Child Support Schedule and are based on both parents' incomes, the number of children, and their needs. This ensures that the child maintains a standard of living similar to that enjoyed during the marriage. 

Seek Experienced Legal Counsel 

Understanding the divorce process in Washington State is paramount to achieving a smooth, effective, and equitable divorce. By familiarizing yourself with the legal requirements and seeking professional advice, you can make informed decisions that can lead to an amicable separation between you and your spouse.  

Remember, you're not alone. At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, we have the knowledge and experience to help. Contact us to schedule a consultation.