We want you, as a client, to be well-informed about the divorce process in Washington State. It will help you to make the best decisions about your case. This divorce faq provides a basic outline so that you know what to expect. You will surely have more detailed questions about the process. Your attorney is happy to answer those questions.
What are the requirements for a divorce in Washington State?
All of the following must be true.
- Be married legally or meet the requirements for common law marriage in another state or marriage laws in a country in which you lived. (Washington does not have common law marriage.)
- One of you must have permanent residence in Washington State. The exception for service members is that the military spouse must be stationed here for at least 90 days after you file and serve your divorce paper.
- The marriage can’t be fixed (“irretrievably broken” in legal speak).
- File and serve the Summons and Divorce Petition, according to the rules.
How long does a divorce take?
At the earliest, an uncontested divorce may be final 90 days after filing. A contested divorce may take longer. Yet, in the interim, the court can issue temporary orders for such urgent issues as child support and spousal maintenance, if you request them.
Can my spouse prevent the divorce?
If you meet all the requirements, the judge will grant the divorce. There are plenty of issues your spouse can argue that may anger you and cause delays. They cannot, however, prevent the divorce. A spouse who does not want a divorce will probably argue over how to divide your property and debts, alimony (known as spousal maintenance), child custody and visitation rights for any children and child support.
If your spouse fails to respond to your divorce petition within 20 days, the court may enter a default judgment in your favor. You will still need to wait the full 90 days for the divorce to be final. There is an exception if your spouse lives outside the state. In those cases, the spouse has 60 days to respond.
What can a court do as a part of the divorce?
- Separate property and debts between you and your spouse, for all property located in this state.
- Decide if maintenance (alimony) is needed and order payments.
- Issue restraining orders or protection orders, if needed.
- Order custody and visitation (parenting plan and residential plan) for any minor children, in most cases. The issue is more complex if you are new to the state or a parent lives in another state.
- Set and order child support in most cases. Once again, the issue is more complex if you are new to this state and a parent lives in another state.
- Grant legal name changes if requested.
Do I need a lawyer to get a divorce?
Not necessarily. It is always best, however, to hire an attorney if you can afford it. We have found that even spouses that initially think they agree find areas of disagreement during the process. Too often normally rational, even-tempered people become unreasonable as the many emotions that divorce evokes come up.
You may also have rights that you can only discover when you use an attorney.
It may be possible to handle your own divorce if you and your spouse are in absolute agreement about every issue of the divorce. Be sure to explore together every issue that might arise before deciding.
It is not advisable to handle your own divorce if you have:
- Substantial property.
- Any disagreements.
- Property in other states.
- A spouse who lives in another state or country.
- Lived here a short time.
Consider consulting an attorney to review your divorce papers. The cost of an hour or two of consultation can save you much more both financially and emotionally.
Use the forms and instructions at the Washington Courts website. These forms are also helpful in deciding whether or not you need an attorney and in preparing to meet with your attorney. They give you a good idea of the questions she or he will ask you.
What are other options for ending a marriage in Washington State?
Legal separations include property and debt divisions, as well as the same decisions about child support and parenting plans as a divorce. It does, however, not end your marriage. You cannot remarry. In addition, a separation does not affect Social Security benefits, and it may fail to affect other financial areas. It’s best to consult an attorney.
Once a court issues an annulment, it’s as if the marriage never happened. At least one spouse must live in Washington or, if in the military, must be stationed here.
If the residency requirement is met an annulment is possible if one of these is true.
- At least one spouse was too young to marry.
- The spouses are related by blood.
- At least one spouse was already married to someone else.
- One spouse committed fraud or was fraudulent during the marriage.
- One spouse was unable to consent at the time of marriage because of mental incapacity or the use of alcohol/drugs.
In the case of an underage or mentally incapacitated spouse, a guardian may file. In the case of bigamy, a child or other spouse may file. You may not get an annulment if you are a minor and continue to live with your spouse after the age of 18.
The more you have; the more paperwork you will do.
You must be prepared to fairly divide your property and to plan well for your new life. This requires gathering documents and knowing your financial information in detail. For instance, you need to gather deeds and titles, bank and credit account details, investment information, and information on furniture, art and other personal property. In addition you need to compile lists of current and future expenses.
Fidelity Investment has compiled a helpful checklist for gathering the documents needed for divorce.
If you decide you need a divorce attorney
Could one of our five divorce lawyers with a combined 90 years of legal experience be the right one for you? Check out the page about our divorce practice.
Or contact us directly to set up an appointment.