Divorce Without Marriage: Dissolving a Domestic Partnership in Washington State

Tom and Carla have been in a domestic partnership for 10 years. They have two beautiful children and a comfortable lifestyle to show for it. Unfortunately, they’re also not happy.

In many ways, they still have as much respect and regard for each other as the day they moved in together. What’s changed is the dynamics of their relationship. At first they couldn’t put their finger on it, but now Tom and Carla agree that they’re better off as friends and co-parents instead of domestic partners and want to formally dissolve their union.

The Dissolution Process

In Washington, a domestic partnership terminates when one of the following occurs:

  • One of the partners passes away
  • One of the partners marries someone else
  • The partners no longer share a residence
  • One partner gives notice that they are ending the partnership

Washington State treats the dissolution of a domestic partnership like a divorce in many ways. To begin with, Tom and Carla can only seek a termination of their union if they have irreconcilable differences and one of the following residency requirements is met:

  • At least one of the partners lives in Washington
  • The non-filing partner is a member of the U.S. military stationed in Washington

The process begins when one partner (and their attorney) completes and files a Petition to End Domestic Partnership at the appropriate county court. After that, there is a minimum waiting period of 90 days between filing and serving the petition and the entry of final orders. Tom and Carla are in agreement about key matters like child custody, maintenance, and asset division, so their final orders can be made right after the 90-day period.

Not all domestic partnership terminations are so harmonious. If both parties cannot agree on the important matters referenced above, they will have to either mediate or litigate their differences.

Temporary Family Law Orders

If Tom and Carla weren’t on such good terms, one or both of them might have requested a Temporary Family Law Order to act as a safeguard until their case can be finalized. Maybe he would seek a restraining order to prevent her from emptying their joint bank accounts or she would request an order for maintenance or exclusive use of the family home.

Under certain circumstances, one partner can get an Immediate Restraining Order that would proceed the hearing for  a Temporary Family Law Order. Washington courts grant these orders if one partner is either harassing the other, selling off property, failing to cooperate in the other parent’s access to their children or one is taking money out of joint accounts that is not in the necessary course of family expenses/living. If domestic violence is a concern, the battered partner can seek a Domestic Violence Protection Order anytime.

Division of Community Property

In general, property acquired before Tom and Carla registered their domestic partnership or received as an inheritance or gift belongs to them individually. Washington is a community property state, so all assets acquired during the partnership are subject to division. If Tom and Carla had not come to their own agreement, the court would have divided this property based on factors such as the property type and duration of the partnership.


If either partner requests maintenance, the courts will review several factors when deciding whether to make an award and, if so, how much. They include:

  • Length of the relationship
  • The couple’s standard of living
  • Age and health of the requestor
  • The requestor’s need for support and the other partner’s ability to pay
  • The estimated time it will reasonably take for the requestor to get the training or education needed to be self-sufficient

Although neither Tom nor Carla requested maintenance, she stayed home for three years to care for their young children, so if she had asked for support, the court would have been inclined to grant the request until which time she was gainfully employed, retrained into the workforce or the like.

Child Support and Parenting Time

When children are born during a domestic partnership and the parents can’t agree on a residential schedule, a court may make these decisions based on what is in the best interests of the children.  Similarly, how much should be paid in child support needs to be determined and also how the parents will share in the other expenses for the children (work related daycare costs, extracurricular activities, and uninsured medical expenses).

Ending a domestic partnership can be as complicated as a divorce, especially if children and significant amounts of community property and / or debt are involved. At Bliss Law Group, we have handled many domestic partnership cases and assisted our clients in getting the resources they needed to enjoy a positive, independent future. If you have questions or need help with your own dissolution, call us at 253-844-4412.

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