A Step-by-Step Overview to Getting a Divorce in Washington State
1. Filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
The divorce process begins when you file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and several other forms in Superior Court of Washington in the county where either you or your spouse resides. The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is a document you and your divorce lawyer prepare, describing your preferences for property and debt division, child custody, parenting plans, child support, spousal support (alimony), and any other issues relevant to your divorce.
Forms that must be filed to “file for divorce” (court forms downloadable here):
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
- Confidential Information Form
- Vital Statistics Form (available at the Clerk’s Office of the court)
When getting a divorce in Washington State, the person who files the petition is the Petitioner. The person who is served the petition is the Respondent.
Washington State is a “no fault” state, meaning the only legal grounds for divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. Anyone seeking a divorce in the state will be granted one as long as they were legally married, meet the state residency requirements, and correctly follow the dissolution procedure.
To get a divorce in Washington State, you or your spouse must be either a resident of the state or a member of the military stationed in the state. You may file in any Washington State county where you or your spouse resides, with the exception of Lincoln County, which does not require either spouse to be a resident.
2. Serving the Petition on Your Spouse
After filing, the next step is to serve the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage along with the Summons on your spouse, the Respondent. A process server or county sheriff will deliver the petition in person and verify with the court that your spouse has been served.
3. Contested or Uncontested?
If you and your spouse agree on all issues, the divorce is uncontested. Your spouse can sign the “joinder” on the petition for dissolution and, after a 90-day waiting period, your divorce may be finalized. Your final documents will match your petition for dissolution.
If there is disagreement, the divorce is contested. If your spouse does not agree completely with the terms described on the petition, he/she has 30 days to file a Response to the Petition for Dissolution, requesting changes to the terms of your divorce.
4. Temporary Orders to Address Issues While Divorce is Pending
You can file Temporary Orders to temporarily resolve issues such as parenting plans, children’s residential schedules, financial protections, restraining orders, temporary spousal maintenance and child support, and use of property. These orders are in effect only while your divorce is pending and should be entered in any contested case to ensure proper management of your case while awaiting final court orders.
5. Parenting Education
In Washington State, when children are involved in a divorce, the parties are required to attend a mandatory seminar that addresses the impact of divorce on children. The seminar provides parents with information on ways to help reduce stress on the children during and after the divorce. Parents must attend the parenting seminar and provide proof of their attendance and completion to the court before their case will be finalized by the court.
Discovery is a process during which you can acquire information that relates to your divorce from your spouse or others. Discovery may include sending specific questions (Interrogatories) and requests for specific documents (Requests for Production) to your spouse. Your spouse’s responses will need to be signed under penalty of perjury.
Requests for documents can also be sent to third parties, like banks, to get information that may assist you in preparing your case. Discovery also includes Depositions, which allows your lawyer, with the opposing lawyer also present, to ask a witness questions in front of a court reporter or other official reporter. Your divorce lawyer will help you to develop a discovery plan to get the information you will need to complete your case.
Some couples choose to use Mediation to work out the details of their divorce outside of court with a third party acting as mediator. Generally, both spouses attend mediation with their attorneys and the mediator serves as an intermediary to exchange each spouse’s position and to help both reach agreement when possible. You cannot force your spouse to participate in mediation. You may be able to resolve all of your case in mediation. Others use mediation to resolve specific issues, narrowing what is left to be decided at trial.
You and your spouse may settle your divorce case after agreeing to a settlement proposal or through negotiation, mediation or another similar resolution process. Your attorneys will prepare final orders setting out those agreements (property settlements, parenting plan, child support, etc.), which both parties must sign and then submit to the court. Your divorce will be final when the court approves the settlement and the family law judge signs the agreement.
While most divorce cases do not go to trial, if you and your spouse are unable to settle your divorce, the court will decide the outcome at a trial. Trial may be scheduled to take place up to a year after your case has been filed. At trial, you and your spouse will both have the opportunity to present your case to the court and request that the judge decide the issues in your favor. You will have the opportunity to call witnesses and to testify as a witness yourself. The final decision will be the judge’s to make.
10. Final Orders
Forms that must be filed to finalize your divorce are:
- Decree of Dissolution
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
If you have dependent children, you will need to file a Final Parenting Plan (with the certificates from the parenting education seminar) and Final Order of Child Support with a Child Support Worksheet. You may also need to prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to transfer any interest in a retirement account.
For more information on divorce in Washington State, read the Comprehensive Guide to Divorce and Family Law in Washington State (downloadable PDF).
If you are considering divorce and want to know more about your options, please contact McKinley Irvin.
Please be advised that family law cases can be very complex and are different for everyone, based on unique circumstances. The information provided here should not be construed as legal advice in your case.
McKinley Irvin proudly serves Washington State and Oregon with offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Puyallup, Vancouver and Portland. Contact our family law offices to set up an appointment with a McKinley Irvin family attorney.