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A Guide to Getting a Divorce in Washington State

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Divorce can be an emotional experience. However, if you understand the process of getting a divorce in Washington State, it may reduce the anxiety by limiting the amount of unknowns. Moreover, knowing what to prepare for before and throughout the different stages of divorce can often make a huge difference in the outcome.

Preparing for a Divorce in Washington State

You can take some concrete steps to make your divorce easier. There are ways that the court prefers to handle situations.  Setting yourself up to be in a position the court favors can reduce stress and potentially negative outcomes.  For example:

  • Develop a plan for your kids: Think through how you want to handle parenting, including who your children will live with, how parenting decisions will be made, and how visitation will work.  Be realistic in creating your plan.  The court favors keeping residential time as close to what is already taking place. 
  • Collect important property: If a piece of property is important to you, make sure you have it, or have access to it, before filing for divorce.  Once the divorce proceedings have started, getting the court to order that one spouse give something to the other can be difficult.  If you want it, keep it.
  • Copy records: Make copies of important records because requesting copies from financial institutions can cost time and money.  Also, there will be circumstances outside of the divorce that may require some of the paperwork that you and your spouse have both kept (i.e. birth certificates) that are easier to make copies of than request from your spouse.
  • Hire a lawyer: Most divorces involve lawyers to provide advice, prepare documents, and advocate before the court.  Whether you are hiring an attorney for limited services to make sure your paperwork is accurate or to be your advocate in a trial, having a professional that knows the law and the procedures will cut some of your stress.

Before delving into a step-by-step explanation of the divorce process, you should understand a few terms that you might run across in a divorce.

A divorce, in Washington State laws, is referred to as a dissolution of marriage. The legal paperwork that initiates a divorce is called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The spouse who files for divorce is called the Petitioner, while the spouse who responds to the petition is called the Respondent.

Matters relating to the children are contained in a document called a Parenting Plan. Time spent with each parent is called a residential schedule rather than custody and visitation.

Finally, Washington uses the phrase “spousal maintenance” rather than the word “alimony” to describe payments from one spouse to the other for financial support.

How to Get a Divorce in Washington State

The process of divorce in Washington has a general structure.  Where a particular case makes it through this structure is dependent on how contentious the case is.  For example, if the spouses are in agreement, the case won’t require mediation to be settled.  The basic structure of divorce includes:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: The legal process of getting divorced starts when you file the Petition for Dissolution at the county court where you or your spouse lives.
  • Service of process: For deadlines to start running, you need to formally give notice of the legal proceeding, or serve the petition on your spouse.  There are different means by which you can accomplish this. The common way is by hiring a process server.
  • Waiting period: Divorces in Washington State require a 90-day waiting period between service of the petition and finalizing the divorce. If you and your spouse have no disputes for the court to resolve, your divorce should be completed in 91 days.  No divorce, in Washington, can be completed in less than 90 days.  Most will take longer.  The speed of the divorce depends almost entirely on the two parties reaching an agreement on all the terms of the divorce.
  • Response: If your spouse responds to the petition, you (or your lawyer) will receive a copy. If your spouse does not respond to the petition, you can file a Motion for Default to end the divorce at the end of the 90-day waiting period.
  • Temporary orders: These establish how issues like visitation, spousal maintenance, bank accounts, and assets are to be handled until the divorce is finalized.  These orders set the tone for how the court will rule if a case goes to trial.
  • Discovery: During this period you and your spouse will produce documents and provide testimony to make sure everyone has access to the same information during the divorce.
  • Mediation and Settlement Conferences: If matters are contested, you and your spouse may be ordered to attend a settlement conference or mediation to try to resolve the issues outside of the courtroom.
  • Trial: Any matters left unresolved will be decided by a judge at trial.
  • Decree: The dissolution decree will end the marriage and include orders covering three areas: the parenting plan, the division of property, and any spousal maintenance.

How to File for Divorce in Washington State

Washington has a specific set of forms that must be completed and filed with the appropriate court to initiate the divorce proceedings.  A petition includes general facts about the marriage, such as the names of the spouses, the names and ages of any children, and the duration of the marriage. The petition must also include a statement that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.”  This is the only recognized basis for ending a marriage in Washington, so there is no use in assigning blame.

While you can satisfy the statutory requirements with a relatively brief petition, a more detailed petition provides a few benefits. First, providing clear details can lay and support the groundwork for the proposed temporary orders that you will submit to the court.  Second, your petition identifies the issues of the divorce and how you think they should be handled.  Anything that you elect not to address on the petition can be raised as an issue by your spouse.  You will then have to argue against it, instead of being the person establishing the position on it.

Though not a typical outcome, if your spouse defaults, the court can rule in favor of everything you outline in the petition. Thus, addressing all the pertinent issues in your petition will allow them to be resolved in an order of default.

Where to Start When Getting a Divorce in Washington State

Before preparing a petition for dissolution, you should identify your goals in obtaining a divorce. A divorce will bring big changes to your life as well as the lives of your spouse and children and should not be entered into lightly. By understanding your goals and what can be accomplished through a divorce, you can start the divorce process with a clear understanding of what needs to be done.

If you need more information on the divorce process you can also download our Divorce Guide for Men.  Within the guide, you will find more in-depth content on the topics covered in this blog. Contact us to discuss your goals and plans if you need a divorce attorney for men in Tacoma, Washington or if you’re getting a divorce in Washington state.

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