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. If you and your spouse can agree on all the issues in your divorce, you may get an "uncontested" divorce. By compromising and keeping open communication throughout the divorce process, you can retain control over the decision-making process in your divorce rather than leaving it all up to a trial judge.
Most of the time, an uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than a traditional, contested divorce. In many cases, you can get through the process on your own or with the help of an online divorce service. You also have the option of getting professional help from a divorce lawyer, which might be particularly appropriate if you and your spouse have complex finances or assets to divide (like retirement accounts or a family business).
In order to file for any kind of divorce in Washington (known as "dissolution of marriage"), you must be a resident of the state on the day when you file the initial paperwork. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030 (2021).) However, the judge may not have the legal authority to include orders in the final divorce decree that affects your spouse and minor children unless they have lived in the state for certain time periods. (Learn more about these requirements and the divorce filing process in Washington.)
To file for an uncontested divorce, you must agree with your spouse that your marriage is "irretrievably broken," which is the only legal reason (or "ground") for divorce allowed in Washington State. Also, you and your spouse must agree about all of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Couples who don't have an agreement may start out with a contested divorce and then try to reach a settlement later in the process—usually through their lawyers. However, even when they're able to do that and avoid a trial, they'll almost certainly spend a lot more money and time before they get the final divorce decree.
Unlike some states, Washington doesn't have a separate, expedited procedure for uncontested divorce (sometimes called "divorce by agreement"). However, the state does allow both spouses (known as the "petitioner" and "respondent") to file a joint divorce petition, which saves some steps in the process and saves money on filing fees. When you're filing for an uncontested divorce jointly, you'll fill out the petition to reflect the provisions in your agreement.
Without a signed, written agreement (which is legally binding on both spouses), the respondent could potentially file a response that disagrees with the requests in the petition, even if it was signed jointly. In that situation, the case would proceed as a contested divorce.
Washington State has official court forms that you must use when you're filing for and completing your divorce. You can download the official divorce forms, as well as the other family law forms that you might need, for free. You can also find links to forms and a DIY divorce packet at the Washington Law Help website. You should be able to get hard copies of the forms from the local court clerk's office, but you might have to pay a fee. Also for a fee, you could instead use an online divorce service that will provide and fill out the forms for you.
To get started, you must fill out a Petition for Divorce (Dissolution) (form FL Divorce 201), which provides the court with information about you and your spouse, your marriage, and your property. When you're filing this form jointly, both spouses must sign the form. If you have any children under the age of 18 with your spouse, you must submit additional forms about your parenting plan and child support. You will also need to exchange financial information with your spouse and file a Financial Declaration (FL All Family 131).
Before you submit your paperwork, check with court clerk's office to make sure that the county where you'll be filing your divorce doesn't require additional forms. Also, if you have minor children, check to see if the county requires you and your spouse to complete a parenting or divorce education course.
Washington's 39 superior courts oversee divorce cases and trials. Typically, you will file your divorce paperwork in the county where you or your spouse lives. However, you both may agree to file for divorce in any county in the state.
You must pay court fees when filing your initial divorce papers, but you can split the fees with your spouse when you're filing jointly. Washington's filing fees for divorce are typically about $300, though they might be slightly different from county to county. If you can't afford to pay, you can request a fee waiver.
Before finalizing an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will need to complete, sign, and submit additional forms: a Final Divorce Order (Dissolution Decree; FL Divorce 241) and Findings and Conclusions About a Marriage (FL Divorce 231). You could save trips to the courthouse by including these forms with your initial paperwork.
You'll have to wait at least 90 days from the filing date before a judge will review your paperwork. Generally, the judge must approve your settlement agreement unless it's unfair. If you have minor children, however, the judge will review your parenting plan, to ensure that it serves the children's best interests, as well as the child support provisions, to ensure that they follow the legal requirements. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030, 26.09.070 (2021).)
Once everything is approved, the judge will sign the findings and divorce decree. Your divorce will then be final.