When most of you think of divorce, you probably imagine dramatic courtroom scenes from movies. Bitter spouses fight over kids and cars and every last detail in a long, drawn-out process.
While reality certainly resembles this on occasion, at a base level, filing for divorce in Washington isn’t as complex or intricate as you may assume.
It’s a progression to be sure, but the basic steps are relatively straightforward. Still, we often find ourselves addressing the topic of how to file for divorce in Washington.
Steps To Filing For Divorce
Like most things with divorce, real complications arise when people get involved. It will probably be in your best interest to consult an attorney regardless, but it never hurts to familiarize yourself ahead of time.
With that in mind, here is how to file for divorce in Washington state.
Complete The Divorce Forms
As with any process, there is a moment where it begins. In this situation, that moment is when one spouse completes the divorce form, also known as the petition for divorce.
The reasons you or your soon-to-be-ex want to dissolve your marriage are, more than likely complex. But Washington is a no-fault divorce state, which means that there is no need to prove that one party was to blame for the failure of the marriage.
You’ll need to provide your information and that of your spouse, including:
- Where you live.
- When you married.
- How long you have been married.
- Your current living situation.
Additionally, you’ll be asked a number of questions about:
- Any minor children.
- Custody and guardianship.
- Child support.
- Spousal support.
You must also disclose any shared property to be divided at this time.
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File The Divorce Papers With The Court
What do you do after completing the proper forms? You file them with the court, of course.
When petitioning for a divorce in Washington, you must submit the appropriate paperwork in the county where you live. Not the one in which you were married, something many people believe.
Before you submit them once and for all, you may want to have an attorney give them a once over. It never hurts to make sure you filled everything out correctly.
When they are ready, make two copies—one for your records, one for your spouse—and go to the courthouse to submit them.
To file for divorce in Washington costs a few hundred dollars. As you’ll find out, every step usually has associated expenses.
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Serve Your Spouse
The next step is to serve your spouse. This is where you have someone present the papers and declare your intentions. You may hire an outside process server to accomplish this, or an attorney can handle this part of the divorce proceedings.
You can’t do it yourself, but you can enlist another adult to do it for you.
If this is an uncontested divorce, your spouse only needs to sign the Acceptance of Service to acknowledge that the documents have been delivered.
However you go about this step, the court cannot move forward until the papers have officially been received by your soon-to-be-ex.
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Sign And File
Signing and filing the final documents is truly just that. There are a series of forms to fill out. This includes any notarized agreements you and your spouse come to regarding the division of assets and debts, custody, spousal and child support, and any other specific details the two sides work out.
Again, you probably want an attorney or member of the court to check these out to make sure you filled them out correctly.
After you reach a final agreement—on your own, with the help of counsel, or through trial or mediation—the court looks over your paperwork, confirms it’s all in order, and signs off.
Once you complete this step, your divorce becomes official.
Where Things Get Messy
It’s in between the serving of the papers and the signing and filing of the final documents where things so often get messy and complicated.
In the case of an uncontested divorce in Washington, the situation may involve little more than both parties signing a few forms.
If your spouse contests the divorce, however, things often become adversarial.
You may have to go to trial, arbitration, or at least mediation, in order to hash things out. Depending on the amount of conflict, the court may subpoena financial records, interview friends and family members, and more.
This is where you see the biggest benefits of having a divorce attorney.
As you navigate these precarious waters, you and your spouse both present your respective cases. If you can’t reach an agreement, the court must rule when it comes to child custody and visitation, division of property, debt and assets, child and spousal support, and more.
In this type of combative situation, you may very well want an experienced hand guiding you towards an optimal outcome.
Related Reading: What is Mediation? Different Types of Mediation Styles
More to Know About Filing For Divorce
Washington is a community property state
There are two approaches to dividing marital assets in a divorce: equitable distribution and community property.
Equitable distribution is used in 41 of the 50 states, making it more common than community property. The equitable distribution model provides judges more discretion and flexibility in dividing assets and debts.
Washington is one of the nine states that use the community property model instead of equitable distribution. Community property treats all marital assets as joint holdings, even if it was acquired in only one spouse’s name. In short, everything belongs to both of you in the eyes of the court.
To exclude property acquired during the marriage from being considered community property, the item must be solely in one spouse’s name and purchased and maintained with money held separately from the other spouse.
Related Reading: Moving Out During Divorce: What to Know Before You Go
Washington State Has A Waiting Period
Every state has a waiting period that must elapse before a divorce becomes final.
At a minimum, divorce in Washington requires a 90-day waiting period before it can be finalized. This means it will be at least three months between when you file the paperwork and when a judge signs off on your case.
During this time, the court often issues temporary orders regarding custody, parenting plans, financial support, and conduct.
If your spouse has objections, you disagree on key points, or other impediments arise, this process lasts much, much longer than 90 days.
Should your case go to trial, it may take up to a year to schedule. The more back-and-forth about issues like custody, alimony, visitation, and splitting up assets, the more time and effort your divorce takes.
To be honest, the process usually takes longer than 90 days anyway, so it doesn’t often have a huge impact.
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Choices you make now have lasting consequences
The choices you make now affect your financial future for five, ten, even 20 years or beyond.
Many people going through a divorce want to get it over with ASAP. Unfortunately, rushing through the process comes with long-lasting negative effects.
Remember, once the ink dries on your divorce agreement, you have to live with those decisions.
Choosing your battles wisely saves you money, time, and headaches during the proceedings. Also, try to be realistic about what your financial situation will be after the divorce.
If you can’t afford to maintain your house, boat, or vacation property post-divorce, don’t fight for over it just to spite your ex. Really think about what’s important and what you can afford. Those are often the best things to focus on.
Related Reading: Can You File For Bankruptcy During a Divorce?
Your debt will be divided in your divorce
Dividing assets is a major part of the divorce process. What many people fail to consider is that debt also gets divided the same way.
Debt accrued during the marriage, and even some debt that was brought into the marriage, gets divided between spouses.
Unfortunately, dividing debt in a divorce doesn’t always mean you won’t be required to pay down the road. Divorce doesn’t automatically remove your name from any existing financial agreements. If the court orders your ex to pay a joint loan, but they don’t, if your name remains on the paperwork, you remain liable for the obligation.
As this process can become incredibly complex in relatively short order, it will, again, likely be in your best interest to retain the services of an attorney. Even if you take the do-it-yourself route, consulting a lawyer ensures you filled out the proper forms in the correct manner. That peace of mind can be a huge comfort as you end one chapter of your life and move forward into another.
Related Reading: How Is Debt Divided During A Divorce? In-Depth