Divorce is inevitably difficult for the adults and children involved. However, your divorce can be easier, and more like a polite negotiation than a boxing match. When divorcing spouses can agree on all the terms of their divorce, they can pursue an "uncontested" divorce. By compromising and keeping open communication throughout the divorce process, spouses can retain control over the decision-making process in their divorce rather than leaving it all up to a trial judge.
Spouses have the option of getting professional help in an uncontested divorce but can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service instead to save money. Most of the time, an uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than a traditional divorce.
Uncontested divorces are available to couples with or without children and are generally much less expensive than contested divorces. Washington offers a simplified process for uncontested divorces if spouses can agree on all issues in their divorce. This process is also referred to as a "divorce by agreement."
With a divorce by agreement, the spouses must agree on all divorce-related issues, including child custody and child support, if children are involved. If you are unable to agree on any significant issue relating to the divorce, your case is "contested," which means you'll have to go to trial and allow a judge to resolve your disputes.
Before you request an uncontested divorce action in Washington, you and your spouse must agree on all of the following issues:
In Washington, divorcing spouses (contested or uncontested) must meet the state's residency requirement before the court accepts the case. To prove residency, you must demonstrate at least one of the following:
Additionally, if you're requesting an uncontested divorce, you must:
Although you and your spouse can enter into an oral agreement on resolving your marital issues, you should consider memorializing the terms in a divorce settlement agreement (sometimes referred to as a "property settlement agreement" or a "marital settlement agreement"). This agreement is a written contract between you and your spouse and is binding on both of you.
If you choose to work with one, an attorney can give you advice on your proposed settlement, make sure you complete the paperwork correctly, and see that you file your paperwork on time. Another kind of professional—a mediator— can help spouses reach agreements and prepare the paperwork that finalizes the divorce.
If you meet the above criteria, you may proceed with your uncontested divorce by filing the required forms, as discussed below. The spouse who files the initial paperwork is called the "petitioner," and the other spouse will be the "respondent." The Washington State Courts publish a comprehensive Family Law Handbook with information you need to file for divorce.
The Washington State Courts offer online forms for completing an uncontested divorce or in hard copy at your local courthouse. Some courts will require a fee if you request forms in person, so be sure to call the court clerk before you go to the courthouse. Or, you can use a DIY service like DivorceNet's Online Divorce, which fills out the forms for you.
To get started, you must fill out a "Petition for Divorce (Dissolution)" which provides the court with information about you and your spouse, your marriage, and your property. If you have any children under the age of 18 with your spouse, you must submit additional forms about your children, custody, and child support.
Before you submit your paperwork, check with your county clerk to make sure the judge handling your case doesn't require additional forms. If you have minor children, you must complete a divorce education course and provide proof of your attendance to the court.
Washington's 39 superior courts oversee divorce cases and trials. Typically, you will file your divorce paperwork in the county where you reside. In cases where you and your spouse live in different counties of Washington, you can file in either spouse's county.
If you file the wrong forms, submit your petition without all the required forms, or bring your paperwork to the wrong court, the judge may dismiss your case, and you will have to start the process over.
You must pay a filing fee to submit your paperwork. If you cannot afford the fee, you can request a fee waiver.
Once 90 days from the filing date have passed, the judge will review your paperwork. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.09.030.) If the court approves your divorce settlement and custody arrangement, the judge will sign the Findings of Fact and Decree of Dissolution. The date the judge signs the Decree of Dissolution is when your divorce becomes final.