A Guide to Divorce in Washington
The process of getting a divorce in Washington is a little less intimidating once you arm yourself with the important information you’ll need to help you get through the process. Although every divorce has a unique set of circumstances, some things are common to all divorces in the state no matter what path you take.
This guide will help you understand some of the challenges you will encounter as you deal with the financial, social and emotional challenges of divorce along the way.
Specifically, we’ll cover the differences between divorce and legal separation, types of divorce, overview of the process, how much it costs, and a whole lot more.
So if you want to be certain that you understand the process (and are able to avoid costly mistakes), we’re here to help.
Here are some of the most common questions and issues to help start you on your journey:
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?
- What kind of divorce is right for you?
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for a divorce online
- Filing for divorce in Washington without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Washington?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status in Washington
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Washington?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is proof of divorce?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources
The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
Married couples can end their marriages three ways in Washington. Each of these has their own special requirements and rules, and a good basic understanding of these options is a good place for you to start.
When a marriage is no longer working and one spouse moves out of the home, couples may consider themselves separated. While this is physically the case, they are not legally separated, and there is a big difference between the two.
In Washington, a legal separation must be granted by the courts through the issuance of a Decree of Legal Separation. Custody, asset division, and support issues are worked out. And this eases the bond of marriage without totally severing it. The couple remains married, but in a much more relaxed and distant way.
It should be noted that legal separation does not always lead to divorce. In fact, it may be a much-needed time out that allows two people to try and resolve their issues in a less intense environment. Stepping away can often times bring added perspective about what a couple will lose in a marriage and possibly give them time to heal from the issues that caused their marriage to come under stress.
Also, when a couple is legally separated, each person is responsible for their own financial decisions and is not responsible for those that the other person makes.
If a person is not a U.S. citizen, and they get a divorce, they run the risk of deportation. But with a legal separation, a noncitizen can still stay in the country even if they don’t live with their spouse.
If one or the other spouse wants to move forward with a divorce in Washington, after a period of six months, they can file a motion that changes a Decree of Legal Separation to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
Annulments are rare in Washington, but if you can prove your marriage is fraudulent or invalid, you may be able to have an annulment granted. This is also known as a Decree of Invalidity. When a couple is granted an annulment, their marriage is considered null and void. Basically, this means that both people can move forward with their lives as if their marriage never happened.
Some people choose this option for religious reasons. For example, the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize divorces and an annulment is the only officially sanctioned way to end a marriage. Catholics who get a divorce may be denied certain religious rights, and any future marriages will not be recognized because the church, will still consider that person to be married.
Annulments may be granted for several reasons in Washington. Those can include one or both parties being under 18 when the marriage took place, if the parties were unknowingly blood relatives, if either person was married or in a domestic partnership at the time of the marriage, if either party was forced into the marriage, if the marriage was never formally consummated, if either party lied on the marriage license, if fraud was committed (to obtain a green card, a concealed pregnancy, concealing a serious criminal record, etc.).
Washington is a no-fault state, meaning that no proof is required to prove one spouse or the other was at fault. Divorce is permanent and straightforward and assuming all requirements are met, the couple will divide assets, resolve child custody and support issues, and other related concerns, and ultimately have the courts agree to issue a final decree that permanently and legally separates the couple.
What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?
Washington is a “no-fault” state. This means that the person filing for divorce does not need to prove that the other party did anything wrong. They only need to cite the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage as the grounds without going into any further details. An irretrievable breakdown means that the marriage cannot be repaired or salvaged.
This simplifies the process versus those states that have fault-based divorces, where one spouse can claim adultery, cruelty, desertion or other reasons for seeking a divorce. In a fault state, the reason for the divorce may impact how marital property or alimony issues are handled.
What kind of divorce is right for you?
You have several options you can pursue in Washington if you are contemplating a divorce. How you proceed will, in large part, depend on the dynamics of your relationship with your spouse and your goals. If you can agree to work together, chances are you will save a lot of money and move quicker through the process.
Once you have made the decision to divorce, determining what type of divorce you will pursue in Washington is the most important thing you will decide. This is because the nature of the divorce sets the framework for how the divorce will play out.
Before we dive into the various options, there’s one thing that I want you to remember.
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all. This is incredibly important to keep in mind if you face any uncertainty during the decision-making process.
Okay, here are the types of divorce:
What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions.
That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist. Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
The process of filing for divorce in Washington
Although there are many different kinds of divorce in Washington, the basic process of filing for divorce is the same no matter type of divorce you choose.
Gather important information.
Save time, money and stress in your divorce by approaching this step in a timely and thorough way. It will take time to pull together your information, but it is vital that you do this without cutting corners. It’s the best way to make sure your rights are protected and to give yourself the possibility of achieving the best possible financial settlement with your spouse.
Starting early and being organized are keys to successfully completing this task.
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
This is only a partial list. To see the complete list and make sure that you’re fully prepared for your divorce, check out our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete the initial paperwork.
After you decide what kind of divorce you will pursue, you will need to fill out several forms and submit them to officially start the divorce process. If you are working with an attorney, they will guide you through this process. Although it will cost you more when you use an attorney, you will save time and stress in working with a professional who understands the system and who will ensure that your paperwork is filled out correctly.
If you decide to go forward on your own without the services of an attorney, then you will need to complete the necessary forms to the best of your ability and submit them to the courts. If you are the one initiating the divorce process, you will be known as the petitioner. If your spouse is the one who files the initial papers, then you will be known as the respondent.
Divorce forms in Washington can either be found online or in a hard copy format at your local courthouse. At a minimum, you will need to file the following forms:
- Petition for Divorce (Dissolution) – FL Divorce 201
- Summons: Notice About a Marriage or Domestic Partnership – FL Divorce 200
- Confidential Information – FL All Family 001
- Attachment to Confidential Information (Additional Parties or Children) – FL All Family 002
- Certificate of Dissolution, Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage or Legal Separation – DOH 422-027
- Proof of Personal Service (after your spouse is served with divorce papers) – FL All Family 101
- Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) – FL All Family 119
- Service Accepted – FL All Family 117
If you and your spouse have any children who are under 18 years old, then you must all complete the following forms as well:
- Child Support Order – FL All Family 130
- WSCSS – Schedule – Washington State Child Support Schedule Definitions and Standards, Instructions and Economic Table
- WSCSS Worksheets – Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets
- WASCSS – Attachment for RSA – Attachment for Residential Split Adjustment
- Financial Declaration of (name) – FL All Family 131
- Sealed Financial Source Documents – FL All Family 011
- Parenting Plan – FL All Family 140
- Residential Time Summary Report – FL Divorce 243
Beyond completing these forms, local county courthouses may have additional forms that they may require to be completed.
File your forms.
If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct and will file them for you at the appropriate court.
If you are not working with an attorney, it is your responsibility to file the right documents with the right court. There are 39 superior courts in Washington, but not all of them administer divorces. Some are general jurisdiction courts only.
In most cases, you will file your divorce papers with court where you live. If you and your spouse live in different counties, then you can file at the county courthouse where you live or where your spouse lives.
You also have the option of filing in Lincoln county, where there are no residency requirements. However, both sides must agree to a Lincoln County filing before a divorce case can be filed there.
How to complete proof of service in Washington
After you file your forms with the court, you must also provide your spouse with those forms as well so that they can have a chance to respond. A judge will not move forward with your case until you can provide proof that the other party has received copies of your court papers.
In Washington, you can serve your spouse in three possible ways:
- Personal service. Someone who is 18 or older must hand-deliver papers to the other person or to someone who is an adult living at the other party’s residence. You can have a friend do this or you can pay a server to complete the task. This is the preferred way to make sure your spouse gets their paperwork. If you are not successful with having your spouse personally served, then you can request permission from the court to serve your spouse by mail or by publication.
- Service by mail. You will need someone to mail court papers for you. They will need to mail a copy by regular mail and another copy by certified mail with return receipt requested.
- Service by publication. This form usually costs the most and is the least likely to reach your spouse. It is considered a last resort by the courts. With this method, you publish a notice in a local paper to publicly announce that you have filed a petition for divorce with the courts.
Filing for a divorce online
For couples who want to go through an uncontested divorce in Washington, there are many companies that will provide them with the forms they need online. These websites will prepare the forms for you based on what information you provide to them. In some cases, the forms will also be reviewed by a paralegal or an attorney before they are returned to you.
You will need to print your forms out and then file your petition with the court. In many cases, you will not even need to appear in court to have your divorce finalized.
Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.
3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.
They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.
From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:
- $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
- Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
- Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
- Library of free tools and resources
- Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
- Immediate access to completed forms
- Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)
3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).
You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.
Better yet, you can Start Your 3 Step Divorce NOW (as low as $84/month).
Their comprehensible platform will take you through the entire process step-by-step.
Filing for divorce in Washington without using a lawyer
You always have the option for filing for divorce on your own without using a lawyer. This works best when you have an uncontested divorce and agree on all the issues with your spouse. Both of you can submit paperwork and a judge will review the proposed settlement before signing off on a final decree.
On the other hand, if you have several contentious issues that you cannot work out with your spouse, you should probably seek legal advice from a good family law lawyer to protect your rights.
How much does divorce cost?
In Washington, the court filing fee for a dissolution of marriage is $280. You may also incur other costs such as for photocopying and delivery service fees.
If you need to retain an experienced divorce attorney, expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 per hour. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process. If you decide to use a mediator or an arbitrator, expect your costs to be somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000, and possibly more.
When you are seeking outside help, one of the important issues you need to discuss during the vetting process is what all anticipated costs will be. You should be given an itemized list that will help you start to figure out costs of the actual divorce process.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Washington?
Washington has a mandatory 90-day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. However, the time your divorce takes from start to finish will depend on what kind of divorce you choose.
In terms of length, uncontested divorces are the best-case scenario and will take as little as 90 days to complete. But contested divorces, especially those where there are several assets or debts to unwind, or child custody and support issues to negotiate, could mean that a divorce might take one to two years or more.
When you have a large amount of assets, hiring a certified asset dissolution professional to assist you may be the best course of action to determine fair market value and which spouse should get a particular asset.
Should I retain the services of a certified divorce financial analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Divorce is complicated enough without trying to reach critical decisions when you may not understand all the consequences of your actions. To help you better understand the benefits of working with a divorce financial specialist, take a look at our article What is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst? (and why you need one).
Bifurcation of marital status is rare in Washington
Bifurcation means that both parties in a divorce can legally declared as a single person while the other issues in their divorce are still being worked out. It does not affect things such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or become major sticking points that are keeping the divorce from being finalized.
The state of Washington strongly discourages bifurcation of a divorce unless circumstances are extremely hostile, and the divorce cannot proceed unless there is an immediate termination. Some judges will allow bifurcation, and some will not, but overall, bifurcation is a rare occurrence in the state.
The spouse requesting the bifurcation must ask the court for a separate trial that will deal only with the issue of marital status. A judge will not grant a bifurcation trial if the minimum waiting time for divorce has not passed since initial divorce papers were served.
If you are granted a bifurcation, and you took the last name of your spouse, you can legally restore your name to your maiden name. Another thing to be aware of is that if a spouse maintains health insurance for the other, then he or she must continue to provide coverage, when possible.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Washington?
If a divorce petition has not been filed with the courts in Washington, then there is no obligation to continue with a divorce if you change your mind. However, if you have filed a petition and you change your mind, then you can also contact the court and request that the petition should be dismissed in your case.
You will not need to provide a reason for the dismissal. You cannot stop someone from divorcing you if that’s what they want to do, meaning that you cannot dismiss the divorce if you are the respondent.
What is a divorce decree?
In Washington, a divorce decree is the court’s final order that terminates a marriage. It provides a summary of the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. it also covers child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues. Once the divorce decree is issued, parties are legally free to marry another person.
What is proof of divorce?
After a final divorce decree is granted, the State of Washington will issue a Divorce Certificate. The certificate shows minimal information, such as the names of both spouses and the date and place a divorce was granted, but typically no other information.
Rather than having to produce the lengthier divorce decree, a divorce certificate can provide proof of divorce for many legal purposes. It can be used when a person wants to change the name on any state issued documents, or as proof that the person legally has the right to get married again.
Changing Your Name
As you prepare your divorce forms, you will be able to choose to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
It’s a long process to contact each company and figure out what to send where. To lighten the load, we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to prevent the 10+ hours of paperwork and research that you would have to do by yourself.
Support Reading: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a ton of online divorce resources that make big claims that they can do it all. Most fall short of our expectations.
A few stand out above the rest.
We’re very excited to share these tools with you because we’re confident that using them will mean a better experience for you during and after your divorce.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- And a whole lot more