Getting divorced in Washington State—like all legal proceedings—involves forms and a number of steps that you must follow. It might seem overwhelming at first, but it doesn't have to be that difficult—and you can get help. Here's the basic rundown of how to get started.
At the outset, it helps to know that there are basically three different ways to approach the process of filing for divorce:
Your choice between these options will depend on the specifics of your situation, as well the amount of time and money you have to spend. While the DIY option is the cheapest, it calls for some legwork and attention to detail, to ensure that you've followed Washington's rules and procedures for divorce (also known as "dissolution of marriage" in the state).
Before you actually file your divorce papers, there are various things you should figure out and prepare.
Unlike many other states, Washington doesn't require you or your spouse to have lived in the state for a certain period of time before you may file for divorce. Instead, the spouse who starts the legal process (the "petitioner") must simply be a state resident (or be stationed in Washington as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces) on the filing date. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030 (2021).)
Despite this relatively loose residency requirement for initiating the divorce proceeding, you should know that there are stricter requirements for the court to have "personal jurisdiction" over the other spouse (the "respondent") or your children. The legal rules for personal jurisdiction are complicated, but they basically limit a judge's ability to include certain orders in a final divorce decree (even when those orders are based on the spouses' agreement). For example:
Filing for uncontested divorce is the easiest option when you're doing a DIY divorce—and pretty much the only option if you want to use an online divorce service. So at the outset of the process, you should know whether you meet the two basic conditions for uncontested divorce in Washington:
Without agreement on all of the issues, your divorce will be contested—at least at the outset. However, at any point in the process—from before you file until right before you go to trial—you can try to reach a settlement agreement with the help of divorce mediation or lawyers.
Washington State has official court forms to use when you're filing for divorce—and you must use those forms. You can download the official Washington forms (for free), or you can often buy hard copies of the forms from your local county courthouse. Washington Law Help also provides an online DIY packet with instructions.
The main form to start the divorce process is the petition for divorce (FL Divorce 201). Similar to divorce complaints in other states, the petition includes information about your property, minor children, and the need for spousal support, along with how you would like the court to handle those issues.
In Washington you may file the divorce petition jointly with your spouse. By co-signing this form and the Agreement to Join Petition (FL All Family 119), the respondent agrees that the judge may approve all of the requests in the petition unless that spouse files a formal answer before the judge signs the final orders (more on that below). When you file a joint petition, you may skip the Summons form, as well as the other forms related to service of the petition (as described below).
There's a separate form and attachment for providing confidential information. You might also need to prepare certain forms if you have minor children, including:
When you're filing the paperwork for uncontested divorce, you may save time by attaching the forms required to finalize the process, including Findings and Conclusions About a Marriage (FL Divorce 231) and the Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241), signed and notarized by both spouses.
Note that some counties have their own rules and forms. Check with the court clerk's office in the county where you plan to file your divorce papers for more information. Or, if the superior court in your county has a "courthouse facilitator" (most do), you can contact the facilitator for more information and assistance. Although the facilitators won't give legal advice, they may help you select the right forms and complete them, explain any legal terms you don't understand, help calculate child support based on the financial information you provide, review your completed forms to make sure you haven't missed anything, and provide details about the local court procedures and requirements. They can also refer you to other services if you need them. (Wash. Gen. Rules, rule 27 (2021).) .
Once you've assembled and filled out the necessary forms, bring the originals and at least two copies (one for each spouse) to the clerk's office of the superior court in the county where you want your divorce case to proceed. Washington law allows you to file for divorce in the county where either spouse lives. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.12.025, 26.09.010(2) (2021).)
However, if both of you agree to file in a county where neither of you live, you may choose any county in the state. Wahkiakum and Lincoln counties allow you to file (and finalize) an uncontested divorce by mail. This can be convenient—unless a dispute comes up after you've started the process. If that happens, you might have to travel to appear in court or go through the hassle of transferring the case.
The court fees for filing the initial dissolution petition vary slightly from county to county, though they're generally about $300. You can split the fee with your spouse when you file jointly. But if you can't afford to pay, you may request a waiver.
Unless you've filed a joint divorce petition, you will need to serve your spouse with the all divorce papers you filed (except the confidential information form and attachment), along with a completed Summons form.
There are different ways of carrying out what's known as "service of process."
Once you've served the papers, file the Service Accepted form or Proof of Personal Service (FL All Family 101) with the court. When you served your spouse out of state, you should also include the Declaration: Personal Service Could Not be Made in Washington (FL All Family 102). (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.28.080, 4.28.100, 4.28.110; Wash. Sup. Ct. Rules, rule 4 (2021).)
If you have children who have ever received public assistance (TANF) or Medicaid, or are in foster care or out-of-home placement, you must also serve copies of your divorce papers on the State of Washington.
After being served with the divorce papers, your spouse will have a certain amount of time to file a response—20 days if served personally in Washington, or 60 days if served personally out of state or by publication. If the respondent doesn't answer in time (and hasn't joined in the petition), the petitioner may request a default divorce.
Before a judge may grant a final divorce that includes provisions involving money (like property division, child support, or spousal support), you and your spouse must exchange complete information about your income, expenses, assets, and debts. When you're filing an uncontested divorce—or you hope to settle your case soon—it will make things easier to file the Financial Declaration forms (FL 131) and serve each other with the required documents when you file the initial divorce papers or as soon as possible thereafter.
In some Washington counties, spouses with minor children will have to attend a parenting seminar shortly after filing for divorce.
After a 90-day waiting period, you may generally finalize an uncontested divorce in Washington without a court hearing. If you haven't been able to reach a settlement, your case will proceed as a contested divorce, which can be a lengthy and expensive process.