Washington State Divorce Decree: The Final Step


At the end of the divorce process, judges in Washington State issue a Final Divorce Order, also known as a divorce decree in some other states, to specify the court’s decisions regarding the termination of marital relations and its terms. In this article, we will provide information on where to obtain a divorce decree, how it functions, and when it may be needed.

What Is a Divorce Decree?

A divorce decree, called a Final Divorce Order in WA, is a several-page document issued by the court when finalizing the dissolution of marriage. In it, the judge determines the date and terms of divorce, that is, the rights and obligations of both parties after the end of their marital relationship.

Ex-spouses can obtain its copy from the county superior court clerk after the divorce process is over. You can find the clerk’s office contacts on the official Washington Courts website.

How Does a WA Divorce Decree Work?

The Final Divorce Order clearly defines how ex-spouses should act after the legal divorce process is completed and specifies requirements regarding assets and debts division, fulfillment of responsibilities for the minor children’s upbringing and maintenance, alimony payments, etc.

A final divorce decree is a court order that each spouse must strictly follow. Neglecting its terms may result in legal consequences.

What Information Is Contained in a Divorce Decree?

The document contains data related to all aspects of marriage termination, including but not limited to decisions regarding the minor children’s future life, child support issues, property distribution, and others. In a divorce decree, the debt collection, house division, and alimony terms are also commonly determined.

Here is a list of the most typical points covered in decrees.

Division of Property

Washington is a community property state where judges will divide all marital possessions between spouses in a “just and equitable” way, tending to ensure that each of them receives an approximately equal share. The court will likely not distribute the separate ownership of spouses or assets defined as their own by a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.

Division of Debt

The debt in a divorce will be divided between spouses in the same way as other property. If parties acquire it during their married life, the court will share it between them. If spouses have a mortgage and do not want to continue paying it after a divorce, they can sell the house to pay off the debt. If one of the parties wants to keep it, they can refinance the mortgage to remove the other spouse’s name from the title.

Custody and Visitation

Parties with minor children must determine rights and responsibilities regarding their upbringing and maintenance. They can get joint legal and physical custody and participate equally in the kids’ lives, or either parent can become a sole custodian if the other is unable to look after the children. Then, the non-custodial parent will be able to visit them from time to time.

No matter what the divorce terms are, parties can agree on them independently if they have an uncontested case. In such a situation, their agreement will likely become the basis of a divorce order. Otherwise, the court will decide on each point during a trial.

Why Is Divorce Decree Required in Washington State?

After the dissolution of marriage is finalized, you need to get a copy of the divorce decree; Washington state institutions may require the Final Divorce Order for various reasons.

1. Name Change

If you decide to return to your maiden name after a divorce, you will need a copy of a court order to change your ID card, driver’s license, etc.

2. Remarriage

You will also need a divorce decree to remarry. It will be a confirmation that you are officially divorced and can enter into marriage again.

3. Legal Matters

Since the court order contains detailed information on property division and child custody issues, it will always serve as proof of the judge’s requirements. You may need it when you decide to check whether the other spouse follows it or to enforce its execution.

Can I Modify a Divorce Decree If the Terms Are No Longer Feasible?

If the terms of your divorce order are no longer applicable for any reason or some circumstances prevent its execution, you can potentially ask the judge to review the decision in accordance with new factors. They may include a change in financial situation or place of work, the need to move to another city or state, etc.

If you are not able to comply with the terms of an existing divorce order, you cannot simply disregard its provisions. The consequences of not following the divorce decree may vary from case to case. To avoid the negative effects of non-compliance with an order, you should request the court to modify it, providing sufficient evidence of changes in circumstances.

Questions About Washington State Divorce Decree

The answers to some of the most common questions about Final Divorce Orders in Washington are provided below.

What Happens if Ex Does Not Follow Divorce Decree?

Failure to comply with a divorce order can result in fines or even imprisonment; it depends on many case-specific circumstances and court decisions.

How Long Does a Divorce Decree Last?

In general, a court order does not have an expiration date. It can become invalid if you ask the court to change its terms and the judge issues a new order.

How to Enforce a Divorce Decree?

If your ex-spouse ignores the terms of a final order, you can file a motion for contempt of court with the county clerk’s office for enforcing a divorce decree. The judge can force your ex to follow the provisions of the decree by imposing a garnishment on their wages or property, eviction, etc.