Divorce Laws in Washington State

Washington state divorce laws

If you have finally made a tough decision to end your marriage, and especially if you plan to file without a lawyer, you have to understand what WA divorce laws might influence your case. The main divorce laws in Washington that would likely concern you would be those on residency, grounds for divorce, custody and child support, property division.

What Are the Residency Requirements for Divorce in Washington State?

There are no specific residency requirements for divorce in Washington. However, according to state divorce laws, at least one spouse should live in the state for either of spouses to file their case there.

It does not mean you cannot file in the state if you have just moved. It would be necessary to prove your intent to stay and live in Washington further.

Washington state residency laws also allow you to file for marriage dissolution if you are:

  • Married to a person who is a resident of Washington state;
  • A member of the military stationed in Washington;
  • Married to a member of the military stationed in Washington.

If you have children, a court will not be able to make decisions concerning them in your case unless Washington is their home state. This implies that they need to live there for at least 6 months before you initiate your marriage dissolution.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Washington?

Washington is a no-fault divorce state. In this regard, courts recognize only one ground for divorce, which is “irretrievable breakdown of marriage.” This means that WA laws allow a marriage dissolution without proving that one of the spouses committed some wrongdoing.

If your spouse cheated or has done something else that led to the breakdown in the relationship, you will not be able to use it as a leverage in court.

However, you or your spouse have a right to disagree that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In this case, the judge will take into consideration a few factors. For example, why one of you has filed for divorce.

After that, the following scenarios can take place:

  • After reviewing all the facts and evidence, the judge can make a decision that marriage is irretrievably broken. It means that your divorce will be finalized on a no-fault ground.
  • If there are issues in the findings or one of you denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the judge can:
    1. Pass the case to the family court;
    2. Order spouses to apply for any counseling services depending on the case and ask for a report on your progress in 60 days to make a decision.
  • If the judge suspects or one of the spouses believes that the divorce petition was filed under coercion or threat, the case can be dismissed given that the findings confirm it.

What Are the Basic Steps to Get a Divorce?

Here are the basic steps of WA state divorce process:

  • Determine whether your spouse will contest the case or disagree with the terms you want to outline in the papers.
    • If it is a “no,” you can cope with the process yourself. It would just be necessary to make sure there is a full agreement.
    • If the answer is “yes,” it would be necessary to get a lawyer, as the whole process would not be simple and it is hard to predict the outcome. The lawyer would be responsible for most of the steps below, and they might vary depending on your individual case.
  • Search for and collect all the divorce forms required for your case. To do it properly, take into account all the specifics of your situation. For example, if you have children, make sure you have all the forms covering custody and child support.
  • Prepare your papers. Fill out the forms with accurate and up-to-date information on all the parties to the case. You will also have to sign the papers after printing them. Please note that some documents might require signing in the presence of a notary public.
  • File your forms. WA laws allow you to file in the county of residence or in the county where your spouse lives. If it is more convenient, you have an option to file in Lincoln County. However, both you and your spouse have to agree to do so. When filing, you will also have to pay a fee of $280. In case you have financial difficulties, you can request a fee waiver.
  • Serve your spouse with copies of filed documents. Even if you filed a joint petition, it is still necessary that your spouse has the copies. In WA state, you may mail or hand-deliver the copies. If you did not sign a Joinder, you may hire a private process server or county sheriff to hand the paperwork to your ex. A private server has a $50 fee, while a sheriff charges $10 for each form.
  • Once you file all the forms, you will have to wait for a mandatory 90-days waiting period to pass before a final hearing can be scheduled. In WA state, it is also called the ‘cooling-off period,’ during which the ex-couple has a chance to settle or reconcile. Also, please note that it may take a bit longer than 90 days to get a hearing date as the court may be overloaded with other cases.
  • Wait until the judge reviews your papers and signs the Findings of Fact and Decree of Dissolution along with forms covering decisions related to your children, if any. The date when the judge signs the Decree is the official date when your divorce is finalized.

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Additional Resources About Divorce in Washington

If you feel like you need more information about divorce in WA state, we recommend you to look through the following legal resources:

  • To review general information about getting a divorce in Washington state, you can visit Washington Legal Help website and read the FAQs.
  • You can find the legal information in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Title 26. Domestic Relations.
  • In case you want to know more about the difference between divorce and legal separation, you are free to read the article Legal Separation vs. Divorce.
  • Gallagher Law Library provides sources for people who file without attorneys.