divorce lawyer explaining steps in Washington divorce

Washington State Divorce Process in Ten Steps

Divorce in Washington state is generally considered a lengthy and challenging process, which most spouses believe only a lawyer could handle. However, it’s not always so, especially if you are in agreement with your spouse. For your convenience, we have prepared a guide on filing for divorce in Washington state with consideration for different options you might have.

Step 1: Checking Residency Requirements

Residency requirements define the time you or your spouse should have lived in the state before you get the right to file a certain case with the local court. The exact period differs in each state. According to Washington state divorce laws, you don’t have to live in WA for any specific time to start the filing process there. This rule applies to a petitioner, a person who is starting the marriage dissolution process.

Even though the residency requirements are not too strict in the state, some issues might occur with court jurisdiction over the divorce case. For example, if the second party has never lived in WA, it might not be possible for a judge to divide property or other assets of the couple and make orders regarding spousal support. If you have minor children, they must live in the state for at least 6 months before filing. Otherwise, the court might only be able to make some emergency decisions. If your kids are non-residents, you will have to wait or file in the home state of your children.

Step 2: Discussing the Type of Divorce

The next important thing you should do is decide what kind of divorce you are going to file for. This choice will determine the steps you need to take to end your marriage, as well as further spending. Fortunately, WA couples have several options to choose from.

Uncontested divorce

Due to the high costs of legal services, many couples prefer filing for an uncontested divorce in Washington state. In order to do it, you need to make sure that you resolve all disputes with your spouse and will be able to manage any possible disagreements before filing. This option is cheaper than the others since hiring a lawyer is optional. In this case, you have to cover the court fees and a small cost of paperwork preparation if you use an online service. An uncontested divorce is also quite quick, as it can be finalized as soon as the waiting period adopted in the state is over.

Washington state divorce online is a simple and affordable solution for those who can get an uncontested divorce and don’t want to spend money on lawyers. Our service will automatically choose and fill out all the needed forms for you. Just fill out a short questionnaire and wait for your documents to be delivered.

Contested divorce

There are situations when it is impossible to come to an agreement with your spouse outside of the court. In this case, contested divorce in Washington state is the only way out of the marriage. You and your spouse will have to hire lawyers and work with them closely in order to create a successful strategy for the court. This type of marriage dissolution may last for around 12-18 months and require the involvement of not only attorneys but also various experts and witnesses.

Please note that generally, registered domestic partnership in Washington can be ended through a divorce process. If you want to dissolve such a partnership, it is best to get legal advice on the matter.

Other options

If you don’t want to get a divorce for certain financial, religious, or other reasons, you may opt for legal separation. A legal separation in Washington state requires spouses to follow a similar process as they would for a divorce, although with a different set of forms. While separation doesn’t officially end a marriage, it allows spouses to divide assets, decide how finances will be managed, and make arrangements regarding childcare.  

woman signing divorce documents before filing

Step 3: Preparing the Paperwork

As soon as you have decided on the type of marriage dissolution, you need to get the divorce forms completed. Finding and filling out Washington state divorce paperwork is rather difficult when you do it on your own.

First of all, there are different types of forms for different cases. Searching for the mandatory ones alone may take a considerable amount of time. Secondly, the forms you have found may appear outdated. You may also understand some points in the forms in the wrong way, which will prevent you from filing successfully on the first try.

For those who want to save time and make the whole process faster, online divorce providers like ours may be the best solution. With us, you will get a full package of court-approved documents along with a step-by-step filing guide for only $139.

Step 4: Filing for Divorce

When you have prepared your paperwork, you will have to bring it to the court and file it so that your case can be initiated officially. You can file the papers with the court of the county where you reside. When you do, you’ll be asked to pay the filing fee along with a few court fees, usually amounting to over $300.

Step 5: Serving the Divorce Papers

The next essential step is serving divorce papers in Washington state. It means that you will have to provide the second party with the paperwork copies, which will be an official notification that the process of marriage dissolution has been started. However, if you have filed jointly, there will be no need for it.

If you haven’t chosen to file jointly, ask the third party to hand the documents to your husband or wife personally. Alternatively, you can hire a professional process server, whose fee ranges between $70 and $200. In WA, you are not allowed to serve your spouse on your own. The server will have to fill out and file an affidavit of service after providing your spouse with the documents.

woman filing for divorce

Step 6: Filing the Response

As soon as your spouse is served with the documents, they have several options: file a response by signing an Acceptance of Service form or answer with a counter-petition. This or that document will determine whether you will proceed with an uncontested or a contested divorce, respectively. Your spouse will have 20 days to file either document.  

Step 7: Waiting Through the Settlement Period

This step largely depends on the kind of divorce you have chosen. In case of an uncontested divorce, you will only need to wait until a divorce waiting period passes. In WA, it is 90 days. It is also called a cooling-off period meaning that the spouses have a chance to reconcile and revoke the petition. Please note that your divorce cannot be finalized until a 3 months period passes. It can last a bit more depending on when you will be able to get a court hearing date.

In case of a contested divorce, the situation gets more complicated. Court trials may take months until the judge can make a final decision. On average, it takes 6 months to finalize a contested case. However, depending on the gravity of the issues that have to be resolved, it may last much longer. The main factors that contribute to the process prolongation are the number of problems (child custody and support, alimony, property division, etc.) and court workload.

Step 8: Presenting Financial Disclosures

Financial disclosure is a very important step which presupposes that both parties share their financial information with each other. These are usually tax returns (for at least 3 months), proof of income, bank statements for 1 year, etc.

Failure to provide the documents for disclosure from any party may have negative consequences for the case outcomes. However, disclosure is not a compulsory step in a divorce. It may be initiated upon the request of one of the parties.

divorce court

Step 9: Final Judgment

In WA, you have to visit a court for a final hearing, even if your case is uncontested. During the trial, the judge will review your paperwork and, if it is in order, issue a decree. As soon as the judge signs a decree, the divorce is finalized. In a contested case, divorce is finalized only when the parties are able to reach an agreement or when the judge makes a decision for them if they fail to agree.

Step 10: Resolving the Post-Divorce Issues

Finalization of your divorce does not necessarily mean that everything is over. There are still some things to consider and resolve after. Here are the most common issues you may face.

Changing your last name

If you requested a name change during a divorce, you need to officially notify such institutions as the Department of Social Security, the Department of Licensing, and others about it. The reason is that some of these institutions will need to issue new documents for you and update your records.

Modifying child support order

Child support order modification is one of the most frequently occurring post-divorce situations. There are many reasons why parents may want to make modifications to the orders. For example, as a child grows, their needs change, and the amount of money that needs to be spent on them does too. In certain cases, one of the parents may get a more lucrative job or lose income. In such cases, the amount of child support may be adjusted to reflect the new financial situation of either parent. The party who wishes to make the changes must file a Petition with the court. Further, during the trial, they must explain why these changes are needed are provide substantial proof.

Modifying alimony

Making changes to the alimony order is also possible after the divorce, but there are a lot of factors to consider. The court will only grant a modification if there are some substantial circumstances usually related to finances or health. However, if the spousal maintenance was not a part of the initial judgment, it cannot be awarded later.