Washington Divorce Checklist: How to Prepare for Divorce


The mere thought of divorce can evoke anxiety, sadness, and confusion. However, such a decision is sometimes unavoidable, and you need to prepare for a new life chapter. Whether you are the person initiating marriage dissolution or responding to a partner’s petition, there are many things to take care of.

To make the transitional period less stressful and more understandable for you, we compiled a list of things to do before divorce. From basic formal details to more personal emotional aspects, this preparing for divorce checklist offers handy tips and guidelines.  

1. Look into Divorce Basics

First, you should understand what legal process awaits you. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the current residency requirements for filing for divorce in Washington State, the types of divorce available, certain regulations concerning property and debt division, child custody and support, and other relevant matters.

Searching for all this information on your own may be challenging, so you may want to contact an attorney for a consultation. An expert can evaluate your unique conditions, answer your questions, and suggest the most advantageous methods to end your marriage.

2. Decide on the Type of Divorce

In Washington, similar to other states, you can apply for uncontested or contested marriage dissolution.

An uncontested divorce is also called an amicable divorce, implying that spouses can reach an agreement on all pertinent matters before officially starting a process. Such an option is usually cheaper, faster, and less exhausting.

In a contested divorce, a couple can’t agree on one or several key issues related to their breakup. Therefore, the case goes to the court, and the judge makes the final decision on debatable issues. The process can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining.

It is up to you and your spouse to decide which approach is more suitable.

3. Decide Where to Live during and after Divorce

While divorce is pending, you may continue living with your spouse either to maintain a sense of stability for your kids or to avoid paying for a rented place. However, if you aren’t getting along well enough, one of you should move out. In contested cases, you may even ask the court to issue temporary orders.

Once the divorce is finalized, it is paramount to think long-term. Several options are available:

  • A custodian parent lives in a family house with kids
  • Ex-spouses sell the property and divide the proceeds
  • Parents try out new trends like “birdnesting.”

There is no universal solution. You should assess your financial situation, children’s needs and best interests, and personal preferences.

4. Have an Honest Conversation with Your Spouse

Though talking with a partner may be challenging, it is worth the effort. It can help you understand each other’s motives and perspectives, set realistic expectations, and even avoid costly and tiresome court battles. Important issues to discuss include:

  • Goals and priorities related to divorce
  • Children, co-parenting responsibilities, and custody arrangements
  • Financial matters, including but not limited to asset and debt division, child support, and alimony.

To get the most out of your conversation, you should:

  • Choose the right time and place
  • Be honest, direct, attentive, and cooperative
  • Listen without interruptions.

5. Talk with Your Kids

You can’t predict how children will respond to your decision to get divorced. Anyway, you should try your best to make this period easier for them. When discussing your current situation and future changes, adhere to such recommendations:

  • Plan the conversation together with your spouse
  • Choose a calm, isolated place
  • Be honest and use age-appropriate explanations
  • Encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings
  • Listen to them
  • Reassure kids of your unconditional love.

6. Decide How You’ll Get Divorce Paperwork

Getting the needed Washington State divorce documents is possible in several different ways. You can:

  • Download them from the official court website
  • Obtain papers from self-help platforms
  • Order documents from credible online companies
  • Request lawyer’s help.

The first 2 options are free, but you’ll need to complete the forms yourself. Contacting a lawyer for such a task may be fast but not very budget-friendly. The most winning option for uncontested cases in terms of speed and economy is to seek assistance with paperwork from online services.

7. Organize Your Documents

You must deal with various documents when preparing for divorce. Check out the lists below to ensure you have all the needed papers at hand.

Gather Information on Your Children

  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Medical records
  • School records
  • Custody arrangements
  • Parenting plans

Gather Financial and Legal Documents

  • Income records
  • Tax returns and debt records
  • Bank and retirement account statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Mortgage documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Property & business appraisals
  • Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements
  • Wills and existing court orders

Get Copies of Documents

Make physical and digital copies of all documents you’ve collected. Keep originals in a secure place.

8. Protect Your Privacy

Privacy protection should be among your top priorities, even if your splitting is agreed-upon. The main steps to take are:

Change Passwords

To ensure your soon-to-be-ex can’t get access to your sensitive data, you need to change passwords for email, social media accounts, online banking websites, and other platforms. Use strong, unique passwords that consist of letters and numbers.

Open New Accounts and Credit Cards in Your Name

With a new account and credit card, you can manage your finances independently without your partner’s intervention. Besides, by closing a joint account and switching to your own, you can be sure your spouse won’t accumulate more debts for revenge or other reasons.

Separate Your Social Media and Streaming Accounts

If you have shared social media accounts, it would be better to create a new one in your name only. Thus, your spouse will neither control your activity nor access personal data.

9. Make an Inventory of Your Personal Property

With an in-depth record of your belongings, settling asset and debt division disputes will be easier. Make a list of objects you got before the marriage (separate property) and estimate the value of each item in your inventory. Organize and keep your documents within easy reach for quick reference during a divorce.

10. Take Pictures

To streamline the asset distribution process, you can photograph valuable items such as real estate, vehicles, furniture, electronics, artwork, and jewelry. It is also a good idea to take pictures of financial documents or records that may be relevant in a divorce. Just ensure your photos are clear and well-lit. Moreover, document the date and time that each image was taken.

11. Prepare for a New Parenting Arrangement

Divorce with children may require parents to be cooperative and flexible to minimize negative effects on kids. To develop a proper parenting plan, you should:

  • Communicate openly and constructively with your ex-spouse
  • Focus on children’s needs and best interests
  • Establish a consistent schedule for visitation and quality time with each parent
  • Adjust to changeable conditions
  • Seek professional support if needed.

12. Plan for Your Financial Future

After divorce, you won’t be able to count on your partner’s input into a family budget. To strike the proper balance between income and expenses, it is important to:

  • Evaluate your current financial situation
  • Create a post-divorce budget, listing all obligatory spending
  • Monitor credit card records
  • Update beneficiary designations
  • Consult a financial advisor.

13. Make Sure You’re Taking Care of Yourself

Dealing with the legal complexities of a divorce, you can easily forget about your well-being. However, prioritizing self-care during this turbulent life period is extremely important. Start with the basics: sleep enough, have a balanced diet, spend time outdoors, exercise regularly, and spend time with people who can understand and support you.