If you’re considering filing for divorce in Washington State, it’s important to understand the process to make the experience smoother for you.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the legal requirements and necessary steps involved in the Washington State divorce process, so you can make informed decisions and approach the process with more confidence.
IMPORTANT: While the information provided below can be a helpful educational tool to understand how to file for divorce in Washington State, it’s important to note that it is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel. To ensure your rights are protected and the divorce process is navigated correctly, it’s best to consult with a Washington State family law attorney.
What Routes Are Available to File forDivorce in Washington State?
Understanding the different options to file for divorce can be helpful as you begin the process. Generally, there are three approaches to consider:
- Do-it-yourself. This involves finding and completing the required forms, filing them with the court, and managing the steps that follow.
- Hiring a lawyer. A divorce lawyer can handle all of the paperwork and legal aspects of your divorce, providing guidance and support along the way.
- Collaborative Law Process. This process requires both parties to agree to use the Collaborative Law Process and both parties to retain Collaboratively Trained Attorneys, but allows the parties to efficiently reach agreements without ever stepping foot in a courtroom.
Each of the options above can be a successful approach, depending on your particular situation; however, it’s important to understand the legal requirements necessary to file for divorce in Washington State.
Do You Need a Reason to File for Divorce in Washington State?
In Washington State, divorce is considered “no-fault.” This means that there is no need to prove that one spouse was responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. All that is required is to show that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Even if your spouse does not want to file for divorce and disagrees that the marriage is broken, you can file without their approval or consent.
Essential Checklist: Things to Do Before Filing for Divorce in Washington State
Before filing for divorce in Washington State, there are some important things to do first. By doing these things, you can ensure the process goes smoothly and your rights are protected.
What are the Residency Requirements for Filing a Divorce in Washington State?
Washington doesn’t require you or your spouse to live in the state for a fixed duration before seeking a divorce. You need only to be a resident of the state or a member of the U.S. Armed Forces based in Washington when you file for divorce.
Washington courts have consistently defined “resident” as having a domicile in the state, which is your fixed home where you plan to stay indefinitely.
Understanding “Personal Jurisdiction” in Washington State Divorce Cases
In addition to the residency requirements, Washington state also has stricter requirements for the court to have legal authority over your marriage, your spouse or your children, which is called “personal jurisdiction.” The rules for personal jurisdiction are complex, but simply put they limit a Court’s ability to place and enforce orders that impact a spouse or child who lives outside of the state.
Will Your Divorce Be Uncontested or Contested?
When a couple decides to divorce, the process can be either uncontested or contested. An uncontested divorce happens when both spouses agree on all aspects of the separation, parenting plan (if applicable), and the division of assets and debts. This type of divorce is generally less stressful, quicker, and less expensive than a contested divorce because there is no need for issues to be brought before the court for resolution. Instead the parties are able to make those decisions expeditiously and amicably.
If you are unable to agree on all aspects of the divorce, then it will likely be contested to some degree.
In contrast, a contested divorce can be much more complicated and time-consuming. In these cases, the spouses disagree on some or all aspects of the separation, including child custody, child support, property division, and/or spousal support. In this situation, filing a motion may be necessary, and the court will make decisions on behalf of the couple.
If a divorce is contested, it’s often best to consult a Washington State family law attorney. Even in cases where divorces are uncontested, speaking with an attorney may be beneficial to verify the agreement states what you believe it does, to assess if the current agreement is fair, and to see if there are other options or benefits you may be entitled to in a divorce. It’s important to remember that even if a divorce starts out as uncontested, it can become contested if new issues arise during the proceedings or if one spouse changes their mind.
Are There Children Involved in Your Divorce?
The best interests of the child should always be the main concern when parents divorce and have children. Even if both parents agree on all aspects of the separation, a parenting plan is necessary to ensure that the child’s needs are met. Washington State courts mandate that parents create a written parenting plan that outlines the child’s visitation schedule, living arrangements, holiday celebrations, and who will make decisions regarding their education and medical care.
Once a Parenting Plan has been put into place, whether temporary or final, it can only be changed if there is a substantial change in circumstances. The process of changing a Final Parenting Plan is called a modification.
To file a modification, you must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original court order and that the proposed change will be in the child’s best interests, among other things. You must also file a Petition with the court and serve it upon your the other party so they are aware of the requested changes.
Itcan be very difficult to establish a new parenting plan. The statute presumes the current Parenting Plan is in the best interests of the child and that maintaining such a Parenting Plan creates stability for the child. To modify a Final Parenting Plan, the requesting party must meet the burden of Adequate Cause. Because this threshold is so high,it is best to consult with a divorce lawyer early in the process to ensure that your rights and the best interests of your child are protected.
Gathering the Required Documentation for Your Washington State Divorce
To file for divorce in Washington State, you must use the mandatory court forms and gather certain documents to support your position.
The official Washington divorce forms can be acquired for free via download, or you may purchase hard copies from your local county courthouse.
Here are the required documents:
- Petition for Divorce (FL Divorce 201) – This is the main form to start the divorce process. This form includes information about jurisdiction over the parties, properties, minor children, and spousal support. You should begin gathering documents such as financial statements, tax returns, and property deeds to accurately list all assets and debts that need to be divided between you and your spouse. You may file the Petition alone, or your spouse may join the Petition (if he/she agree with the requests stated in your Petition).
- Summons (FL Divorce 200) – The Summons is the notice your spouse will need, along with the Petition, to move the case forward.
- Confidential Information form (FL All Family 001) – You will need to provide confidential information about yourself, your spouse, and your children. This information will be kept confidential, but is required to start your case.
- Certificate of Divorce, Declaration of Invalidity or Marriage, or Legal Separation (DOH 422-027) – This form is required by the Department of Health and will be needed in order to file your initial documents.
Additional documents you may need to file:
- Agreement to Join Petition (FL All Family 119) – Is used If both spouses want to join in the Petition for Divorce ., Joining in the Petition means that both spouses agree to everything listed in the Petition (i.e. asset and debt division, fees and costs, spousal support, etc.)
- Proposed Parenting Plan (FL All Family 140) – This form requires information about your preferred custody arrangements. You will need to prepare this form if you have minor children.
- Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets (WSCSS – Worksheets) – These worksheets are used to calculate child support payments based on the income of both parents. You will need to gather documents such as pay stubs and financial statements. (You will need to prepare this form if you have minor children.)
If you’re filing for an uncontested divorce, you can save time by also completing the required forms at the time of finalizing your divorce: Findings and Conclusions About a Marriage (FL Divorce 231) and the Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241), and Final Order of Child Support, Worksheets, and Final Parenting Plan; signed by both spouses.
In addition, it is best to check with the court clerk’s office in the county where you plan to file your divorce papers for more information on any county-specific rules and forms such as Verifications, Parenting Seminars, and Sealed Financial Documents.
If you are having a hard time figuring out the paperwork or if you do not understand all the information, it is best to seek help from a family law attorney who can guide you through the process. A lawyer can also help make sure that your rights and interests are being fully protected in your divorce settlement.
How to File for Divorce in Washington State
Each family is different, therefore each divorce is different. What needs to be filed and how can differ based on the facts of your case or the county in which you are filing.
Some requirements of the divorce process can be skipped altogether, such as attending a Mandatory Parenting Seminar (link here), if you are requesting a divorce with no minor children, as well as filing a Proposed Parenting Plan and/or Child Support Worksheets. Additionally, if you and your spouse agree on the division of assets and debts, certain parts of a litigated divorce may not be necessary (i.e. discovery, mediaiton, etc.). A family law attorney will be able to advise you on the best route to take for your specific situation.
To file for a divorce in Washington State, you will need to follow a series of steps.
Step 1. Complete All the Required Forms
The first step is to complete all the required forms in order to start your divorce case. The official Washington divorce forms can be acquired for free via download, or you may purchase hard copies from your local county courthouse.
The main forms you will need are the Summons, Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Certificate of Dissolutoin, and Confidential Information Form. These forms outline the proposed division of assets and debts that need to be divided between you and your spouse, as well as jurisdiction and confidential identifying information..
Depending on the complexity of your case (ie. if you have children) and the nature of your divorce (uncontested/contested) you may need to complete additional forms.
Step 2. Speak with a Family Law Attorney (optional)
While some divorces are easy and straightforward, you may wish to speak with a family law attorney if your case is more complicated. An experienced lawyer can help you understand the process, ensure all paperwork is filled out correctly, and advise you on your rights and obligations.
If your divorce is uncontested and you are confident to proceed without legal help, this step is optional.
If your divorce is contested, then a family law attorney can help you navigate the process and represent your interests in court.
Bliss Law Group is a team of family law attorneys in Washington State that can help make sure your divorce goes as smoothly as possible. You can call our office by phone at 253-499-8845 or by filling out a short contact form.
Step 3. File the Paperwork with the Court Clerk’s Office
The next step is to file the paperwork with the court clerk’s office in the county where you plan to file . You will need to provide originals of all your completed forms, along with a filing fee. It is a good idea to have two additional copies; one for your records and one to serve on your spouse.
Washington State laws do not impose residency requirements to file with a specific court, but it is essential to ensure that the court has jurisdiction over your property, your spouse, and your children (if any).
Step 4. Serve Your Spouse with the Divorce Papers
Once your initial documents have been filed with the Court you will need to serve your spouse with the divorce papers. This requires personal service. Personal Service can be made by anyone over the age of 18, competent to testify in court, who is not a party to the case. Therefore, YOU cannot serve your spouse. You can hire a process server or have your attorney serve your spouse. If you are unsure where your spouse is located, there are other available options (i.e. mail, publication, etc.). Speak with a Family Law attorney to find out more about these options.
When filing for an uncontested divorce in Washington, your former spouse will need to sign an Acceptance of Service form indicating receipt of the paperwork; or join in the Petition. Ifyour case is contested, the process will involve additional steps between service and mediation. Those steps may include requesting Temporary Orders or completing Discovery. If you do not have an attorney, you would be responsible for ensuring the right process is followed.
Step 5. Attend Mediation and Negotiate a Settlement (if applicable)
If your divorce is contested, the next step is to attend mediation and attempt to negotiate a settlement. This could include matters such as child custody, child supports, division of property and debts, spousal support/ alimony, etc.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution which involves an impartial third party (oftentimes an experienced Family Law Attorney who offers mediation services) helping both sides come to an agreement. During the process, your attorney and the mediator can help you and your spouse assess the potential outcomes at trial and reach an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties.
Step 6. Attend Court Hearings (if applicable)
If mediation does not result in a settlement, then both parties will have to attend court for their trial held before a judge. Your attorney will represent your interests and argue for a fair outcome that best serves your needs.
Sometimes a divorce can start out as an uncontested divorce, and then become contested if a settlement cannot be reached. If this happens, the process will involve additional steps, including court involvement.
Step 7. Sign and File Your Final Divorce Documents
The final step is to sign and file your final divorce documents, which will include the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, and possibly Verifications, Child Support Order, Worksheets, and a Parenting Plan.
Thes documents legally end your marriage and outline all agreements reached between both parties in terms of property division, child custody, spousal support/ alimony, etc. Once it has been signed by both parties and filed with the Court, then your marriage will be considered dissolved.
Should You Speak with a Family Law Attorney?
If you are filing for a divorce in Washington, it may be in your best interest to speak with an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can help you understand the process, ensure all paperwork is filled out correctly and advise you on your rights and obligations throughout the divorce proceedings.
In addition, an attorney can be your legal advocate and represent your interests in court if your divorce is contested.
If you are considering filing for divorce in Washington, contact Bliss Law Group today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys. We can help you navigate the process and represent your interests in court, if necessary.