In Washington state, divorce is formally known as "dissolution of marriage." Rather than "plaintiff" and "defendant," the parties in a Washington divorce 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.
Washington is an exclusively no-fault state. The only permissible "ground" or reason for divorce is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." 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 can't be saved. Washington courts will still grant the divorce, even if the other spouse protests.
To file for divorce in Washington, either you or your spouse must be a state resident. 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 the state and have demonstrated 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 a number of forms in family law cases; however, 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 debts should be assigned, your proposed custody plan for any minor children, and any other important 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 sides 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 the opposing side. "Service of process" provides the other party 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. "Service by Publication" 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. Under Washington law, this is known as a Joinder to the Petition.
Once your spouse has filed his or her receipt of the documents with the court, you must wait at least 90 days before the court will schedule a final hearing on the matter. This cooling off period gives both sides an opportunity to attempt a settlement of all the issues within the case. If you cannot 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, Washington law requires the parties to make a complete disclosure of all income, assets, and debts. Before the court will grant a final decree of dissolution, both spouses must submit a Financial Declaration. This document is usually exchanged as early as possible to facilitate potential settlement.