Grounds for Divorce in Washington

Learn about whether your spouse's misconduct during the marriage will impact your divorce.

What Are Grounds for Divorce?

Anytime someone asks the court for a dissolution of marriage—or, divorce—the court requires the filing spouse to identify a legal ground to terminate the marriage. When you prepare your application for divorce, you must list a specific reason for your request. Some states allow parties to file for a fault divorce, which is where you claim that your spouse’s bad acts during the marriage are the reason for the failed relationship. Although fault grounds vary by state, some of the most common include drug or alcohol addiction, mental or physical abuse, and adultery.

Over the past 50 years, all states have accepted the modern trend of no-fault divorce. A no-fault divorce is a method for divorcing spouses to end their marriage without revealing the private and intimate details of why the marriage didn’t work. Courts usually base no-fault divorce on irreconcilable differences, which means that the couple can’t get along anymore and there’s no chance for reconciliation in the future. Many states also allow couples to get divorced based on a period of separation between the spouses. One of the most attractive features of the no-fault divorce is that neither spouse needs to point fingers or place blame on the other for the issues in the marriage.

Can I Ask for a Fault Divorce in Washington?

No. Washington is exclusively a no-fault divorce state, which means that the court isn’t interested in knowing the behaviors of either spouse that caused the breakup. If the filing spouse (petitioner) applies for a no-fault divorce and testifies that the marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown, the court is usually quick to grant the request.

It’s usually enough for one spouse to allege that the marriage is damaged beyond repair, however, if the non-filing spouse (respondent) denies that there is a breakdown of the marriage, you may experience a delay in the process. In cases where the spouses don’t agree on the state of their marriage, the court may:

  • transfer the case to family court
  • refer the couple for counseling services, and
  • request a report from the counseling services professional.

It may seem disheartening to imagine an interruption in an already emotional time, but the entire process of counseling and family court intervention can’t last more than 60 days. If, after 60 days, the couple returns to the judge without reconciling, the court must grant the divorce.

If the couple reconciles after receiving counseling, the judge can dismiss the divorce case.

How Does the No-Fault Divorce Process Work in Washington?

The initial divorce process in Washington is relatively straightforward. The spouse that wants the divorce must file a complaint for dissolution of marriage with the court in the county where they live. The complaint contains all the relevant information about the couple’s marriage, including:

  • each spouse’s last known address
  • the date and place of the wedding
  • whether either spouse is currently pregnant
  • the names and ages of any children from the marriage
  • a statement of when the parties separated
  • specific arrangements for the residential schedule and decision making for the children
  • a detailed description of who will financially support the children, and if either spouse will provide alimony to the other, and
  • whether the parties own any community or separate property, and how they plan to divide it.

In addition to providing details in the complaint, you must also let the court know if you meet the state’s residency requirements, which means that at least one spouse is a resident of the state of Washington. Unlike many other jurisdictions, Washington doesn’t require residency for a specific amount of time, but you must be able to demonstrate that the state is your primary residence and you intend on staying there after the divorce. You can prove you meet this requirement by providing a copy of your driver’s license, voter registration card, or change of address forms from the post office.

If you meet the requirements, Washington also has a minimum statutory cooling-off period before the judge can hear your case. The minimum waiting period is 90 days from the time the petitioner gives (serves) the paperwork to the respondent. This cooling-off period was created by the courts to provide the couple with some time to try and reconcile, but if that’s not possible, it is typically enough time for the divorcing spouses to work out the details of the divorce agreement.

At the end of the divorce process, the parties have the option to settle and create a divorce settlement agreement (uncontested divorce) or go to trial (contested divorce). Obviously working together is the most efficient method of divorcing because the couple agrees on all divorce-related issues, like property division, custody, and support, and presents a signed agreement to the judge. Once the judge approves the document, the couple’s divorce is final.

Divorce trials are complicated and time-consuming, and often the result is the same as if the couple negotiated without the court’s assistance. However, a hearing will cost each party significantly more in legal fees, which is often a motivating factor for negotiations.

My Spouse Had an Affair, Does It Matter?

Not exactly. In some no-fault states, like Michigan, the court can evaluate your spouse’s misconduct in other aspects of the divorce, like property settlements or custody arrangements. In Washington, however, a spouse’s actions during the marriage can’t influence a judge’s decisions on alimony, child support, custody, or property and debt division. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t recoup money that your spouse wasted while committing the misconduct.

Washington is a community property divorce state, which means that any property acquired during the marriage belongs equally to both spouses. If your spouse used your marital money to pay for a weekend in the Bahamas with someone other than you, the court could order the offender to pay you back.

If you're considering filing for divorce, or if your spouse filed for divorce, and you need to know what steps to take next, contact an experienced family law attorney near you for assistance.

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