Important Legal Terms & Filing Eligibility

Washington State is a no-fault state so you don’t need a reason to get a divorce. The only requirement to get a divorce is that two people are married, and one person no longer wants to be married. If you decide divorce is the option for you, there are a number of steps you have to take to start an action.

First, you have to figure out if you can even file in Washington State, if Washington State has what is called “jurisdiction”. You can file in Washington State if you live here, your spouse lives here, or if your spouse is in the military and stationed here for at least 90 days after filing and serving the divorce documents. If you have kids, you need to make sure the kids have been residing in Washington State for at least the past 6 months (it tends to get complicated when they haven’t been). There are a few other considerations when determining the best place to file, and if you think multiple states or counties might be possible options you should speak with an attorney.

If you have figured out Washington State is the place to file, you need to know some big picture things about what the process looks like. Washington has a mandatory 90-day waiting period – even if you and your spouse are in agreement. If everything is calm, cool, collected, and agreed, the process has 3 steps: file, wait 90 days, and finalize. Things get a lot more complicated when the parties aren’t in agreement, and the divorce will likely take longer than 90 days. The short version of a contested process looks something like this: file, serve, temporary orders, discovery process, settlement conference, negotiate, trial. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Washington State is a community property state, meaning that anything and everything acquired during marriage is equally yours and your spouse’s (with a few separate property exceptions). All of the things you own need to be included in the divorce (i.e. vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, houses, etc.) – these are called assets. All of your debt also needs to be included in the divorce (i.e. credit cards, student loans, mortgages, lines of credit, car loans, etc.). I recommend putting together a list of these items prior to filling out the initial divorce documents.

    The Basic Documents You Need to Start a Divorce

    If you’ve gotten this far, you should be happy to know that Washington is forms based, meaning you need to use the forms helpfully provided by the state. You can find PDF and Word versions of the forms you need at www.courts.wa.gov/forms. The basic documents needed to start a divorce are:

    1. Petition for Divorce (Dissolution)
    2. Summons: Notice about a Marriage or Domestic Partnership
    3. Confidential Information Form
    4. Certificate of Dissolution, Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage or Legal Separation

    If you have children, you will also need:

    1. Parenting Plan
    2. Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets
    3. Child Support Order

    What Happens Next?

     Once you have these documents and are ready to fill them out, please read them carefully and answer the questions as fully as possible. The documents are designed to be an easy step-by-step process, but if you have questions, leave the section blank and wait to ask an attorney.

    If you have successfully completed the documents and they are ready to be filed, you need to do a few things before taking them to the courthouse. First, you need to make two sets of copies: one for you to keep, and one for you to give to your spouse. You will be taking all three sets of documents (one set of originals and two sets of copies) to the courthouse when you are ready to file. Next, you need to do some research and find out what the filing fee will be. The filing fee is set by each county and required at the time of filing, so make sure you do your research first. If you are someone with a low monthly income, you may qualify for a fee waiver so check to see what the requirements are to be able to obtain a fee waiver. Filing fees are generally a few hundred dollars, so this is something you might want to check prior to setting too many things in motion (for example, Clark County’s filing fee is $314.00). 

    After you have completed the items above, you are ready to go to the courthouse with your copies and fee (or fee waiver). Go to the Superior Court Clerk’s Office and provide the Clerk with all the original forms you filled out. Since you are starting a new matter, you will receive a case number. The case number you receive is unique to your divorce, and the number will need to be on all the documents you provide to the Court throughout the course of your matter. The Clerk will provide you with a stamp that has this number, and you need to stamp the first page of all of your copies with that stamp. You will also need to stamp the first page of all of your copies with the “copy” stamp. This stamp has important information on it: that the document is a copy, the date the original was filed, and what county it was filed in. After everything is stamped, you provide the Clerk with your form of payment for the filing fee.

    Once you finish at the courthouse, one set of copies is ready to be served on your spouse. “Service” simply means personally handing the documents to your spouse, or to someone of suitable age that lives with your spouse. One thing to keep in mind is that if you and your spouse agreed and signed the initial documents together, then your spouse does not need to be served, but it is a good idea to give them a copy of the documents anyway. If your spouse did not sign the initial documents with you, then you need to have your spouse served. Any person over the age of 18 can serve the documents so long as that person is not you. All documents you file at the courthouse need to be given to your spouse. No exception. Whoever serves your spouse then needs to fill out and file at the Clerk’s Office a Proof of Personal Service (can be found at www.courts.wa.gov/forms). 

    Once your spouse has been served, a couple different countdowns start: 1) your spouse has 20 days to file a Response to the Petition, and 2) your 90-day waiting period starts. If your spouse lives outside the state or country, then they will have longer than 20 days to respond (60 and 90 days respectively). If your spouse does not respond, then you can find them in default (a topic for another day). If you and your spouse agreed and signed the initial documents together, then you simply have to wait for the 90-day waiting period to expire. 

    Conversely, if you have been served with divorce documents, then you need to take these documents seriously, and review them carefully. You need to mark your deadlines, and complete the documents necessary to respond – at least a Response to the Petition. You might also want to check out your county’s Local Court Rules to see if anything additional is needed from you.

    This blog talks about what to do to start your divorce, but there are several steps that might be involved in your matter that I didn’t have a chance to get to today, but you should keep in mind:

    1. Temporary Orders
    2. Contempt (violation of court order)
    3. Modifications
    4. Restraining Orders
    5. Default
    6. Final Orders
    7. Alternative Dispute Resolution

    Getting divorced can be very overwhelming, and try not to get too discouraged. If you have any questions about starting a divorce or any of the topics mentioned above that weren’t covered, contact Navigate Law Group for assistance.

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    Disclaimer

    Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue you should consult an attorney.