What you need to know about Washington state divorce

Make sure you have the facts before proceeding with a divorce.

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What's Inside

If you’re considering filing for a divorce in Washington state, you’ve come to the right place. This article provides the basic information you should know about getting a divorce in Washington. It covers the eligibility requirements, spousal support, child custody and more. With this information, you’ll be better prepared to navigate your divorce.

What are the residency requirements for divorce in Washington state?

People who belong to one of the following groups are allowed to file for a divorce in Washington state: 

  • A Washington resident
  • The spouse of a Washington resident
  • A military member stationed in Washington
  • The spouse or domestic partner of a military member stationed in Washington

Also note that Washington courts can’t make decisions about child custody unless Washington is the children’s home state. (They need to live there at least six months before the divorce proceedings begin.)

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Since Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, the only ground recognized to dissolve a marriage is that your marriage is “irretrievably broken”. Spouses in Washington state may agree on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, but they also have the right not to. Disagreeing doesn’t prevent the spouses from getting a divorce. 

Can I get spousal support? What factors will a judge consider?

It’s possible to get spousal support, also called spousal maintenance, as part of your Washington state divorce. A judge can also order temporary maintenance for a period of time during the divorce proceedings. 

The judge will take the following factors into account when ordering maintenance: 

  • The need of one spouse for maintenance versus the ability or the other spouse to pay maintenance.
  • Your financial resources, including property from the divorce and any child support received
  • The parties’ financial obligations
  • The amount of time it will take to get education or training for a job that meets your skills, interests, lifestyle and other circumstances 
  • The standard of living for you and your spouse while married
  • The length of your marriage
  • The parties’ age and physical and emotional health
  • Your spouse’s ability to meet their needs and financial obligations while paying maintenance 

How is marital property divided in Washington state?

Washington is a “community property” state, which means that any property and assets acquired during the course of the marriage generally belong to both spouses and are subject to a “fair and equitable” division by the court. (This is compared to separate property or debts, which are acquired by each spouse before or after the marriage.) 

Assets considered as part of community property can include real estate and each spouse’s earnings, pension benefits and 401(k) contributions. Community property also extends to any debts accumulated over the course of the marriage.

Although Washington is a community property state, the court doesn’t necessarily divide assets and debts in a 50-50 equal split. Instead, it follows a system of “fair and equitable” division that considers factors such as: 

  • The nature and extent of community property
  • The nature and extent of separate property
  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s economic circumstances when the property division takes effect
  • Whether the spouse with custody should get the family home

In general, depending on the length of the marriage and other circumstances, the courts aim to avoid a situation where one spouse is very wealthy and the other is poor, and instead strike a fair balance between the two. When children are involved, the court looks at how property division would affect each parent’s financial situation and living condition after the divorce. 

How is child custody determined in Washington state?

Washington state courts are moving away from the terms such as “custody arrangement” and “visitation” and more toward “parenting plan,” “residential schedule” and “decision-making authority”. The parents can create and agree upon an appropriate parenting plan themselves or, if they are unable, leave it up to the court. 

Central to a judge’s decision about a parenting plan is the child’s best interests—their needs and sense of security and stability are given priority over the parents’ preferences. 

In many (but not all) cases, a judge will grant parents a shared residential schedule. Even in cases when one parent has been abusive, Washington custody laws establish a minimum visitation schedule that gives the other parent time with the child, even if there are restrictions on that time. 

To determine a parenting plan that matches the best interests of the child, a judge may consider: 

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Any agreements the parties made
  • Each parent’s performance as a parent, both past and future
  • The child’s emotional needs and developmental level
  • The child’s relationships with siblings and with other significant adults
  • The child’s involvement with school or other activities
  • The parents’ wishes
  • The child’s wishes (if they are mature enough)
  • Each parent’s employment schedule

How is child support determined in Washington state?

Child support payments are calculated on the basis of each parent’s income using the Washington state child support schedule. This functions like an income tax table where the judge can find the amount of support applicable to the total combined income and the number of children.

As part of child support arrangements, a judge also awards the proportionate child tax credits each parent is entitled to claim.

How to file for divorce in Washington state

These are the basic procedures for filing for divorce in Washington state.

1. Meet the requirements for residency

Before you can file a divorce petition, make sure you meet the residency requirements and can legally complete the divorce proceedings. 

2. Gather the necessary documents

Gather all the correct paperwork to successfully file for divorce. These forms may include:

  • Petition for dissolution of marriage
  • Summons
  • Confidential information form
  • Child support worksheet (if minor children are involved)
  • Financial declaration
  • Parenting plan (if minor children are involved)
  • Decree of dissolution of marriage

You can find the relevant documents on the Washington state courts website

Ensure that all documents contain the most accurate and updated information about you and your spouse. After filling them out, sign the forms (you may need to do this in the presence of a notary).

In Washington state, it’s also possible to file a joint petition for divorce, where both parties agree to the terms of the divorce and the distribution of assets and debts. In this case, you’ll need to fill out a joint petition for divorce or sign a joinder.

3. File the papers

When your divorce packet is prepared, you can file the forms in either your or your spouse’s county of residence. You can also file in Lincoln County if it’s more convenient, but you and your spouse must agree on this decision. At the time of filing, you need to pay a filing fee, which is currently around $300 but varies based on the location of the court.

If you can’t afford the fee, you can request a fee waiver when filing for divorce by submitting an application for waiver of court fees and costs (Form FW-001) along with proof of your income, expenses and assets. The court will review your application and determine if you qualify for a waiver based on your financial situation.

4. Serve the papers

If you file via joint petition, you can skip this step. Otherwise, once the case filing is complete and a case number has been assigned, you must serve your spouse a copy of your petition and summons. 

The person serving the papers must be 18 or older and can’t be involved in the proceedings. For a fee, you can hire a process server or the sheriff to serve the documents for you. (If your spouse lives outside your county or in a different state than Washington, the sheriff of the county in which your spouse resides can do service of process.) Whoever serves the papers needs to fill out a proof of service that they performed this duty.

Once served, your spouse (the respondent) needs to respond to your petition within 20 days. File the proof of service and a copy of the summons with the court clerk. 

5. Reach an agreement or attend a trial

If you filed a joint petition for divorce, this means you’ve effectively reached an agreement and don’t need to go to trial. Instead, you need to wait 90 days after filing and serving the papers for your final hearing to be scheduled. This “cooling-off period” gives you and your spouse time to settle or reconcile, if relevant. (Your actual hearing may take a little longer than 90 days to take place due to overload in the courts.)

If you can’t reach an agreement, you need to attend a trial. During a divorce trial in Washington state, the court hears testimony, reviews exhibits and makes a decision on the terms of the divorce. The trial is held in front of a judge, and often each spouse hires an attorney to represent them and argue their case. After hearing the evidence, the judge makes a decision and issues a decree of dissolution of marriage that sets forth the terms of the divorce.

6. Final decree of divorce

Whether the parties were able to reach a settlement or the court made the decisions during a trial, the court issues a final decree of divorce. The day the judge signs the findings of fact and decree of dissolution—as well as any child custody forms if applicable—is the day that your divorce is officially finalized.

How do I end a domestic partnership in Washington state?

The steps for ending a domestic partnership in Washington state are the same as for filing for divorce, though the forms are slightly different

How long will it take to get divorced in Washington state?

A Washington state divorce timeline depends on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. 

When the spouses agree and have an uncontested divorce, it usually takes about three or four months, depending on the court’s workload, to be finalized. Since there’s a clear agreement, there’s little need to wait beyond the mandatory 90 days, and the process is quite simple overall.

If the spouses disagree on the terms in a contested divorce, the timeline can be much longer. You can anticipate completing the process in no less than six months, but complicated cases can take a year or more because spouses may have multiple hearings to attend. They may also need to arrange meetings with experts to prepare testimonies about contested issues such as child custody and property division. Each trial comes with a sizable wait that grows as the court’s workload increases. It also takes each spouse time to gather any evidence required to support their claims.

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How much does divorce cost in Washington state?

The cost of divorce varies from case to case, but currently, the average cost for lawyer’s fees in Washington state can be upwards of $25,000 to $30,000 if a trial is necessary. In addition, there are the filing fees (which are currently around $350), as well as child and spousal support payments. 

In general, the more disagreement between you and your spouse, the more expensive your case is likely to be.

Can we agree to a divorce settlement outside of court?

If you and your spouse can reach an agreement regarding the terms of the divorce, your case can be finalized outside of court in Washington state. However, the necessary final orders need to be prepared and filed with the court to finalize your divorce. 

When to speak to a divorce attorney

You aren’t required to work with an attorney during your divorce, but in most cases, it’s beneficial to do so. It’s never too early to speak with an attorney, even if you haven’t made up your mind about proceeding with the divorce. It’s a chance to ask questions and receive valuable answers that will inform your decision. 

If any of the following situations are relevant to you, it can be useful to speak with a lawyer to understand your legal rights and create a plan: 

  • You’re exploring your options
  • You’re separated from your spouse 
  • You want to end the marriage but don’t know where to begin
  • You suspect your spouse is planning to separate
  • Your spouse wants to end the marriage
  • You anticipate your spouse will contest the divorce
  • Your spouse has a history of domestic violence, abuse or neglect

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Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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