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 spouses can compromise and keep open communication throughout the divorce process, they can retain control over the decision-making process in their divorce rather than leaving it all up to a trial judge.
When divorcing spouses can agree on all the terms of their divorce, they can pursue an "uncontested" divorce. This article provides a general overview of the process of obtaining an uncontested divorce in Washington.
Uncontested or "simplified" 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—divorce courts in the Evergreen State refer to this simplified process 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 the following:
Additionally, if you're requesting an uncontested divorce, you must:
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 the information you need to file for divorce without an attorney.
Filing without an attorney
Courts in Washington don't require any divorcing spouse to hire an attorney. However, if you plan to file for divorce without the help of an attorney, the judge will expect you to file the right forms in the correct location. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 26.09.006.) Washington has 39 superior courts, which are courts of general jurisdiction and oversee divorce cases and trials. Some counties have more than one superior court.
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. It's important to understand that 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.
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.
When you file for divorce, you must include the following forms:
If you and your spouse have children together under the age of 18, then you must include the following additional forms:
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.
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.
If you have additional questions about obtaining an uncontested divorce in Washington, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For self-help options, visit Washington Law Help for information, forms, and guidance.
For more information on uncontested divorces in Washington, see Washington Statutes, Chapter 26, Section 9.