Divorce Law in Washington State

Divorce isn’t easy. It’s an emotionally fraught and often heartbreaking process that can be confusing, frustrating and even frightening for couples who are trying to untangle the threads of their life together so that they can each begin anew. The following is a brief overview of Washington state divorce law, and is only intended to give the reader an idea of what to expect during the divorce process. If you have been served with divorce papers, or if you want to file for divorce, we strongly recommend that you contact an attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your rights and assets as you move forward.

The first step in filing for divorce is deciding that you want one in the first place. Because Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, the court will grant a divorce if the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” This means that, for whatever reason, you (or both of you) believe that the marriage is beyond saving, and you want to “dissolve” the legal bond created when you got married. More to the point, you don’t have to prove that anyone in the marriage was at fault for the breakup, so you don’t have to disclose potentially painful or embarrassing information to the court.

The second step is the actual filing. You or your lawyer will prepare a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage according to the rules of the proper court. The “proper court” is one that has jurisdiction over you and/or your spouse, which means it is authorized by law to hear your case and make a decision that legally binds you both. The Superior Court of any county where you or your spouse lives has jurisdiction in divorce cases.

Third, you’ll serve the divorce papers and a summons on your spouse. You can simply ask your spouse to accept service, but if this isn’t an option, then you can have another person serve them with papers. This is called personal service, and can be done either by someone you know or a professional process server. If personal service is impossible (for instance, you don’t know where your spouse is, or they won’t accept service), you can serve them by mail or publication, subject to some rules and restrictions. Once they’ve been served, you or your lawyer will file the completed Service Accepted or Proof of Personal Service forms with the court.

Assuming the other party is willing to agree to the divorce, they’ll sign the petition. You or your lawyer will file the petition and all other required documents, and then the required 90-day waiting period will begin. During this time, the court may issue temporary orders for financial support, children’s residential schedules, and other matters.

Courts will require a parenting plan when the divorcing couple has children together. This plan, which is legally binding, sets forth the specifics of physical custody (e.g. who gets the kids on Mother’s Day, whether the kids will be at your house or your spouse’s house for Christmas on even or odd years, where the kids will spend school vacations) and legal custody (e.g. who is responsible for making medical decisions). The plan also governs how you and your spouse will resolve any disputes that arise in the future.

If you and your spouse agree on the essentials of the divorce – physical and legal custody of any children you have together, division of property, financial maintenance, and child support – the divorce will be uncontested. Once the waiting period ends, the court will grant the divorce.

If you and your spouse can’t agree on the above-listed elements of the divorce, you can ask the court to resolve things, or you can enlist the help of a mediator, who will help you come up with a plan that works for both of you. While it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer on board, divorce litigation can get very expensive, so it’s usually in both parties’ financial interests to try and compromise on any thorny issues.

We hope this quick rundown of the divorce process has helped you. If you have any questions, or if you need an attorney’s help, we are here for you. The Law Office of Daniel J. Smith has a strong track record of compassionate and diligent advocacy, and we’re committed to helping divorcing couples navigate the process quickly, fairly, and amicably. Contact us by phone at (206) 725-7024 or via email at info@danielsmithlawoffice.com.

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