The Washington Divorce Process
How Do I Get a Divorce in Washington State?.
1. File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
The divorce process begins when you file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (and related administrative forms) in the Superior Court of Washington in the county where either you or your spouse resides. The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is a document you and your divorce lawyer prepare that describe your preferences for property and debt division, child custody, parenting plans, child support, spousal support (alimony), and any other issues relevant to your divorce.
There are several Washington State pattern Forms that must be filed to “file for divorce” (court forms downloadable here):
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
- Confidential Information Form
- Vital Statistics Form (available at the Clerk’s Office of the court)
When getting a divorce in Washington State, the person who files the petition is the Petitioner. The person who is served the petition is the Respondent. Washington State is a “no fault” state, meaning the only legal grounds for divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. Fault, such as adultery, is not required, nor is consent of the other spouse. To get a divorce in Washington State, you or your spouse must be either a resident of the state or a member of the military stationed in the state. You may file in any Washington State county where you or your spouse resides.
2. Serving the Petition on Your Spouse.
Unless the divorce is uncontested, the next step after filing is to serve the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage along with the Summons on your spouse, the Respondent. A process server or county sheriff will deliver the petition in person and verify with the court that your spouse has been served.
3. Uncontested or Contested?.
If you and your spouse agree on all issues, the divorce is uncontested. Your spouse can sign the “joinder” on the petition for dissolution and, after a 90-day waiting period, your divorce can be finalized. Your final documents will match your petition for dissolution.
If there is disagreement, the divorce is contested. If your spouse does not agree completely with the terms described on the petition, he/she has 20 days to file a Response to the Petition for Dissolution.
4. Temporary Orders to Address Issues While Divorce is Pending.
You can file Temporary Orders to temporarily resolve issues such as parenting plans, children’s residential schedules, financial protections, restraining orders, temporary spousal maintenance and child support, and use of property. These orders are in effect only while your divorce is pending and should be entered in any contested case to ensure proper management of your case while awaiting final court orders.
5. Parenting Seminar.
In Washington State, when children are involved in a divorce, the parties are required to attend a mandatory seminar that addresses the impact of divorce on children. Unless attendance is waived, parents must attend the parenting seminar and provide proof of their attendance and completion to the court before their case will be finalized by the court.
Discovery is a process during which you can acquire information that relates to your divorce from your spouse or others. Discovery may include sending specific questions (Interrogatories) and requests for specific documents (Requests for Production) to your spouse. Your spouse’s responses will need to be signed under penalty of perjury.
Requests for documents can also be sent to third parties, like banks, to get information that may assist you in preparing your case. Discovery also includes Depositions, which allows your lawyer, with the opposing lawyer also present, to ask a witness questions in front of a court reporter or other official reporter. Your divorce lawyer will help you to develop a discovery plan to get the information you will need to complete your case.
7. Alternate Dispute Resolution (Mediation and Arbitration).
Many Washington courts, including King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties, require both parties to make attempts to settle their differences by alternate dispute resolution, i.e., mediation/settlement conference or arbitration. One exception to this rule may be where domestic abuse has occurred.
Mediation refers to use of a qualified neutral third party who attempts to facilitate settlement. In mediation, the neutral is not an advocate and will not provide legal advice. Most discussions that occur in mediation are not admissible in Court under the public policy consideration that favors a free exchange of information between the parties to help them resolve their differences. The vast majority of cases, between 90%- 95%, are resolved through negotiated settlement between the spouses during the divorce or alternate dispute resolution.
Arbitration refers to the use of a third party, either an attorney or former judge, to hear and decide the disputed issues. The arbitrator’s decision is then made into a court judgment and is binding and final just like a trial court’s decision.
You and your spouse may settle your divorce case after agreeing to a settlement proposal or through negotiation, mediation or another similar resolution process. Your attorneys will prepare final orders setting out those agreements (property settlements, parenting plan, child support, etc.), which both parties must sign and then submit to the court. Your divorce will be final when the court approves the settlement and the family law judge signs the agreement.
While the vast majority of divorce cases (90%-95%) do not go to trial, if you and your spouse are unable to settle your divorce, the case will go to trial. In Seattle and the surrounding areas making up King County, trial is scheduled almost a year after your case is filed. At trial, you and your spouse will both have the opportunity to present your case to the court and request that the judge decide the issues in your favor. You will have the opportunity to call witnesses and to testify as a witness yourself. The Judge then makes a final ruling on all issues.
10. Final Orders.
Forms that must be filed to finalize your divorce are:
- Decree of Dissolution
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
If you have dependent children, you will need to file a Final Parenting Plan (with the certificates from the parenting education seminar) and
Final Order of Child Support with a Child Support Worksheet. You may also need to prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to transfer any interest in a retirement account.