It is not a secret that lawyers’ services cost a real fortune in the US. In WA state, an average attorney’s fee is $350. That is why many couples consider coming to a full agreement and filing for a do-it-yourself divorce. While the Washington state divorce process may be tricky, it is not too hard to navigate. Read this article to find out how to get a divorce in Washington state completely on your own.
Steps for Initiating a DIY Divorce in Washington State
If you consider getting a divorce in Washington state without any help, you need to know what to do step-by-step. Here are the basic steps of dissolution of marriage in Washington:
- Check if you qualify for an uncontested divorce.
- Find and fill in the paperwork required for your specific case.
- File the Petition for Divorce along with other documents with the appropriate court.
- Serve forms on your spouse.
- Provide the Proof of Service to the court.
- Wait 90 days after serving the other party.
- Sign and file final divorce documents.
- Day in court – completing the divorce.
Check If You Qualify
|It is crucial that you meet two basic requirements before you file for a do-it-yourself divorce:
It means that you have to be sure that you have settled all the disputes with your spouse concerning child custody and support, alimony, and asset and debt division. This would guarantee that you do not need to hire a lawyer and can represent yourself in court.
In WA, there are no minimum residency requirements. You just need to live in the state or prove your intent to do so further. However, in case you have minor children, they need to live in Washington for at least 6 months before you file. Before that, a court will not be able to make decisions that involve them.
Filling Out the Divorce Papers
In order to fill out divorce papers in Washington state correctly, you need to follow these steps:
- Determine which Washington divorce papers are needed for your marriage dissolution. Depending on your personal circumstances, you will require paperwork covering your assets, parenting plan, or requests for certain reliefs.
- Fill in the blank divorce papers. Make sure that there are no blank fields in all your forms unless the instructions require it.
- Revise all your documents. If you make even a tiny mistake, a clerk will not accept your paperwork, and you will have to file for marriage dissolution once again.
Filing the Divorce Documents
Make sure you have all the documents needed to file for divorce:
- Petition and a Joinder
- Separation Agreement
- Confidential Information Form
- Certificate of Dissolution
- Case Information Cover Sheet
There may be a few other forms depending on your family situation and requests to court.
To file for divorce in Washington state, bring the paperwork to the clerk in the court of the county of your residence. As you file your own divorce, it might be better to contact the clerk before you bring the paperwork to inquire about the fees and the payment options.
Along with the original forms, you need to have two copies of the documents as the court clerk will take the originals. The copies will be returned for you to keep one and serve the other one on your spouse. During the filing step, you must also pay the filing fee of around $280.
Serving the Other Party in a Family Law Case
As soon as you filed, your next step is the process of service:
- To serve legal papers in Washington state when you signed a Joint Petition, you should try to deliver the copies of forms to your ex-husband or wife personally. It means that you need to hand the paperwork directly to him or her at a personal meeting.
- If a Joinder has not been signed, any third party over 18 can hand over the documents to your ex. Process servers in Washington state charge around $50-60 for the service, and you can hire one where your spouse lives.
- If your spouse lives out of state, a third party can complete service by mail with court permission.
- When you cannot find your ex, it may be possible to complete the service by publication. Serving papers in Washington state this way requires court approval and might prolong or complicate the process to the point you will not be able to go through the DIY process.
When your spouse receives the paperwork, they have 20 days to respond to it if they are state residents and more if they are not. You will need to file a Proof of Service in Washington state court after the service is completed.
Finalizing a Divorce
As long as all the previous steps are completed and the mandatory waiting period of 90 days has passed, you can finalize your divorce. To do it, you need to contact the clerk and request a final hearing or ask if it is required in your case.
On the date of the hearing, take the rest of the forms with you to the court. These might be:
- Final Divorce Order
- Findings and Conclusions form.
- Parenting Plan and Orders related to children.
- Financial documents.
A judge will review the paperwork, ask you a few questions, if any, and issue a Divorce Decree. When is divorce final officially? According to WA divorce laws, marriage dissolution is finalized as soon as the judge signs the Findings of Fact and Decree of Dissolution.
Mistakes to Avoid with a DIY Divorce
Divorce is a long and difficult process, so sometimes, things may go wrong. However, you can ensure that this will not happen by learning which divorce mistakes to avoid:
- Doing your own divorce without proper research. You need to have a solid understanding of all the steps you must take as well as the forms you need to fill out. Otherwise, you can miss something important and waste a lot of time.
- Refusing to cooperate with your spouse. Marriage dissolution is associated with many grudges and bad memories, but this is when you have to work together towards the common goal for the last time. Besides, if you do not communicate with your ex, you are simply not allowed to file for uncontested divorce.
- Rushing to make decisions. It is not a surprise that you want your marriage to be over as soon as possible, but such impatience may play a cruel trick with you. You should take your time and think about your life after the divorce. It is only with a cool head that you will be able to come to terms that will satisfy both you and your ex.
- Hiding some important details. This is one of the most common divorce mistakes that may lead not just to case dismissal but to fines or even incarceration. Remember that any distorted information or lies will get you in trouble.
- Not thinking about your future life. You will start a completely new life period, and your income will probably decrease for a while. That is why you need to take this fact into account when making short- and long-term plans and discussing the financial implications of the Settlement Agreement with your ex.
Fees for Do-It-Yourself Divorce
Washington state divorce filing fees are court fees of approximately $280, which may vary from county to county. There will be additional fees for copies and other miscellaneous services.
If you experience financial hardship, you may obtain a fee waiver and avoid paying filing fees. However, in order to get it, you will need to meet one of these requirements:
- You get TANF, HEN, SSI, Federal poverty-related veteran’s benefits, or Food Stamps.
- Your income is below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.
You will incur legal fees for divorce only if you hire a lawyer, which is optional in uncontested cases. With a lawyer, your marriage dissolution will cost around $7,000-$12,000.
DIY Divorce vs. Hiring an Attorney
Hiring a lawyer is a must only if you and your spouse have no prospects of reaching an agreement. In case with uncontested divorce in Washington state, you can meet an attorney only a few times to get some legal advice or discuss one of the aspects of your case need be. The best thing about this type of divorce is that you do not necessarily have to work with a legal professional if there is no need to.
Benefits of completing a do-it-yourself divorce in Washington state over hiring an attorney:
- It is cheaper.
A lawyer in the WA state charges between $175 and $378 per hour. However, experienced attorneys or popular law firms charge even more. Filing for divorce in Washington completely on your own, you can avoid any expenses except for filing fees (which still can be waived in some cases). Alternatively, you can work with an online divorce provider to help you with the paperwork. Such services are considerably cheaper than lawyers and may also help to guide you through the divorce process.
- It is less time-consuming.
Planning your week around meetings with a lawyer might be a huge inconvenience. When you go through a DIY divorce, you can take your time and keep the pace that is comfortable for you.
As any option, DIY divorce also has some disadvantages:
- It might be quite difficult to figure out on your own.
Without any assistance whatsoever, you may miss some important details. This is especially pertinent to the paperwork preparation step, as you may make some mistakes in forms that will lead to court rejection. For this very reason, couples consider working with online divorce providers who prepare all the needed paperwork and provide comprehensive filing instructions.
- It may turn out to be unfair for one of the parties.
For example, it may concern property division or alimony allocation. However, this depends solely on your and your spouse’s relationship. If none of you pushes for agreements that put another one at a disadvantage, there should be no issues. Alternatively, you may try mediation to settle on specific aspects of your marriage dissolution.