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
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, see our complete resource:
Guide to Getting a Divorce in Washington State.
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.