In Washington state, divorce is referred to as a "dissolution of marriage," and the parties are called "petitioner" (the spouse asking for the divorce) and respondent (the spouse that responds to the request for divorce).
This article examines the divorce process in Washington and explains the various steps you will encounter along the way. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.09.020 (2018).) If you have specific questions, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Washington is an exclusively no-fault state. The only permissible ground or reason for divorce is that the marriage is irretrievably broken, which means there is no chance the spouses will reconcile. Unlike other states, which allow fault-based divorce complaints, Washington does not permit divorcing couples to assign blame or get into all the reasons why the marriage broke down.
Under Washington law, it's only necessary for one party to believe the marriage is beyond repair. Washington courts will still grant the divorce, even if the other spouse protests. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.09.030 (2018).)
To file for divorce in Washington, either you or your spouse must be resident of the state. State law doesn't require you to live in Washington for any specific length of time. As long as you or your spouse has established residency, you can file for divorce within the state.
To prove residency, you must maintain a permanent home within Washington and demonstrate the intent to make it your primary dwelling. Washington courts also look at things such as voter registration, your driver's license, and mailing address when determining residency.
Washington requires both spouses to complete several family law forms, but the main document is the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Similar to a divorce complaint in other states, the petition outlines how you would like property divided, how much spousal support you wish to receive, how you will allocate joint debts, your proposed custody plan for any minor children, and any other vital issues.
In addition to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Washington law also requires the following:
When you have assembled the necessary forms, you must next file them in the appropriate county. Washington law allows you to file in either your home county or the county in which your ex resides.
Additionally, you have the option to file in Lincoln County, which allows non-residents to file within its jurisdiction. Both spouses must consent to file in Lincoln County before you can open a divorce case there.
After you have filed your forms, state law requires you to serve them on them on your spouse. "Service of process" provides your spouse with a copy of all divorce forms and gives him or her a chance to respond. To accomplish proper service, you can hire a professional process server or pay for the sheriff to deliver the papers.
If you don't know your spouse's whereabouts, you can also publish a notice in the local newspaper, which is called service by publication. This can be costly, however, so most people make every attempt to track down the other party. You can skip service if the other side voluntarily joins the case (by completing form FL All Family 119,) which the law refers to as joinder to the petition.
Once your spouse has filed the receipt of documents with the court, you must wait at least 90 days before the court will schedule a hearing on the matter. This cooling-off period allows both sides to attempt a settlement of all the issues within the case. If you can't agree, the case proceeds to a contested divorce, which can be a lengthy, expensive process.
Between the initial filing and the resolution of all issues, divorcing spouses in Washington must make a complete disclosure of all income, expenses, assets, and debts. Before the court grants a final decree of dissolution, both spouses must submit a Financial Declaration. Parties usually exchange this document as early as possible to facilitate potential settlement.
See our section on Washington Divorce and Family Laws for information and the process, and the related legal issues you'll need to consider. You can find helpful information, such as links to legal assistance and court forms, on the Washington Court website.