So, you’re ready for a divorce. Whether it has been a long time coming or if it was thrown upon you suddenly, you’re about to take your first steps into the often confusing and trying world of the divorce process. It can seem like an overwhelming mountain to climb, especially when your emotions are at their peak. But educating yourself beforehand, understanding divorce documents, choosing the right advocates, whether that’s an excellent divorce attorney, or a qualified mediator, and surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family, will make the journey much easier on you.
It’s important that you and your soon-to-be ex do your best to remain calm, discuss things openly, work toward a consensus, and pursue a resolution that brings the marriage to an end swiftly and respectfully, while avoiding unnecessary divorce costs, This will help each of you, along with your children (if you have any), to move through this difficult season more smoothly and begin building a new life beyond divorce.
There are a few different ways to file for divorce and several steps you need to take throughout the process to ensure everything, including all divorce paperwork and other legal matters, is accurate and you walk away with a sense of clarity about the whole thing. In this article, we’re going to look at what it takes to file for divorce in Washington. This will give you the foundation you need to move forward with confidence.
Ways to File for Divorce
In Washington State, there are essentially three different ways you can file for divorce. These include a Do-It-Yourself divorce, Filing Online, or Hiring a Lawyer. The reasons for choosing each will vary, based on your specific circumstances, whether assets are contested, what each of you desire regarding custody arrangements and child support, and other pertinent issues. Let’s look briefly at each one.
You can either obtain the necessary physical forms in-person or online, fill them out and file them with the court. This method works well for couples who contest almost nothing and largely come to an agreement beforehand on most issues. For more complicated or contested divorces, or separations that involve a range of assets and complex child custody arrangements, an experienced divorce lawyer is always advised.
In this sense, we are referring to online divorce services who can ease the process for you by providing forms, completing them using your information, and even filing them for an additional fee. This works well for similarly uncontested or less complicated divorces, but isn’t advised for hotly contested separations.
Hiring a Lawyer
By far the safest and most professional way to file for divorce. Divorce attorneys help you in several ways, by filling out paperwork, negotiating on your behalf to agree on more favorable terms, working to protect your assets and guard your time with your kids, provide sound legal and personal advice based upon years of experience, and ultimately give you a more complete and secure divorce experience.
The caveat, when compared to the other two methods, is that a lawyer costs more. You’re likely to spend several thousand dollars by the time things shake out. Still, with an equitable division of assets, and with all the assurances you receive by having a professional work hard to protect your interests, the innumerable benefits of an attorney far outweigh the costs.
What Do I Do Before I File for Divorce?
Before you fill out and file your paperwork, there are a few things you need to determine.
Contested or Uncontested Divorce
When you’re going the DIY route and handling it on your own, an uncontested divorce is the easiest option. If you’re using an online service, it’s pretty much the only option. To do so, both of you need to ensure that you meet the two required conditions for an uncontested divorce. These are:
- Both you and your spouse agree that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” In Washington State, this is the only allowable legal reason (“ground”) for divorce. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.030(a) (2021).)
- You need to have a marital settlement agreement, also known as a “separation agreement.” This covers all legal issues involved in ending your marriage. These issues include the division of your property and debts, alimony (“spousal support”) and, if you have minor children, child custody, child support and all parenting arrangements. (Wash. Rev. Code § 26.09.070 (2021).)
If you don’t come to an agreement on every issue, your divorce will be considered a contested divorce. However, you can at any point along the way, right up until the moments before the trial begins, come to a settlement with the help of mediators or divorce lawyers,
Obtaining and Completing Divorce Forms
You must use only the official divorce forms provided by Washington State’s court systems. You can download these for free online from courts.wa.gov/, from several other legal websites, or pay for hard copies by visiting your local court in person.
The first form you want to tackle is the petition for divorce (FL Divorce 201). This form includes information about your property, minor children, and the need for spousal support, along with instructions on how you want the court to handle these matters.
In Washington State, you have the ability to file the petition for divorce jointly with your spouse. When you co-sign this form and the Agreement to Join Petition (FL All Family 119), the respondent acknowledges that the judge may approve all requests within the petition unless they (your spouse) ends up filing a formal answer before the judge signs the final orders. When filing a joint petition, you may skip the Summons form, as well as other forms related to service of the petition.
If you have minor children, there are additional forms that may need to be filed, including:
- your proposed Parenting Plan (FL All Family 140)
- a proposed Child Support Order (FL All Family 130), and
- Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets (WSCSS – Worksheets).
When filing paperwork for an uncontested divorce, you can save time by attaching the specified forms required to complete the entire process. These include:
- Findings and Conclusions About a Marriage (FL Divorce 231) and
- Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241), which must be signed and notarized by both parties.
Because some counties have different requirements, it is important to check with the court in the county where you and your spouse are filing for divorce. If your location has a “courthouse facilitator,” connect with them to get clarification on exactly which forms you need and any additional help to understand forms or terms within the paperwork. They cannot give legal advice but can assist you in filling out forms correctly along with recommending other resources that might serve you in the process.
Filing Your Divorce Papers
Once you’ve filled out all required forms, bring the originals and at least two copies, one copy for each spouse, to the clerk’s office of the superior court within the county where you desire your court case to proceed. Washington State law allows you to file for divorce in the county where either spouse lives. (Wash. Rev. Code §§ 4.12.025, 26.09.010(2) (2021).)
If both spouses agree to file for divorce in a county where neither resides, you may choose any county. Some counties even allow you to file entirely by mail. These allowances may decrease hassle for certain couples with unique circumstances.
As far as money is concerned, the fees required for the initial dissolution paperwork are around $300 in most Washington State counties. If the two of you file jointly, you may split the fee and a waiver may be requested if you can’t afford it.
Serving and Responding to Divorce Papers
Unless you filed jointly, you will need to serve your spouse with all the divorce forms you filed, except the confidential information form and its attachment. There are a few different ways to serve your paperwork, what is known as “service of process.” These include:
- Your spouse may agree to receive your paperwork in an informal manner by signing a Service Accepted form (FL All Family 117).
- Without this acceptance, you will need to have someone (generally a private professional process server, or any adult who’s not connected to your divorce case) deliver the paperwork to your spouse by hand.
- If you are unable to locate or serve your spouse personally, you may ask the court to permit you to serve your documents by mail, or surprisingly enough, by publishing a notice in a local newspaper. You will need to file a Motion to Serve by Mail or Motion to Serve by Publication (FL All Family 104, 108) to comply with all requirements.
Once you have served your paperwork to your spouse, file the Service Accepted form or the Proof of Personal Service (FL All Family 101) with the court. After being served, your spouse will have a specified period to respond, 20 days if filed in Washington or 60 days if served personally out-of-state or by publication. If your spouse doesn’t answer before the allotted time has elapsed, you may request a default divorce.
What Do I Do Next?
Before the judge can grant a final divorce, which includes things like property/asset division, spousal support, and child support, each of you must exchange information about your debts, expenses, assets, and income.
If you’re filing uncontested or hoping to move the divorce forward quickly, you can make things smoother by filing the Financial Declaration forms (FL 131) and serve each other all required financial documentation when you file the initial petition for divorce. In some Washington State counties, parents with children will be required to attend a parenting seminar after filing.
Following an initial 90-day waiting period, you can usually finalize an uncontested divorce without a court hearing. However, if the two of you have not reached a settlement, your case will proceed instead as a contested divorce. This is generally lengthy and expensive for both parties.
There are other considerations you will need to be clear on, such as the specifics for out-of-state spouses or filing out-of-state, the implications of domestic violence, if your children receive public assistance, live in foster care or otherwise out of the home, or several other matters. These circumstances require greater clarification and additional documentation.
It is important that you study up. Take advantage of free resources, talk with court employees who can answer questions about paperwork and filing. Discuss the process with friends or family who have walked through divorce, and certainly reach out for professional legal help from an experienced divorce lawyer when the time comes.
Torrone Law helps individuals and families find peace of mind and satisfying resolutions during divorce with caring, focused legal help and sound advice. Reach out today to discuss your options.
To learn more about filing for divorce, check out our frequently asked questions and answers below.
Is it difficult to file for divorce in Washington State?
It isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is detailed and time-consuming. Filing for divorce requires patience, self-education, asking a lot of questions, a lot of clear communication, filling out all paperwork and filing on time, and getting the help you need from professionals.
Can my spouse and I file for divorce ourselves without lawyers?
Sometimes. If neither of you want to contest the divorce and both agree on the division of assets, child and spousal support and other issues, and can settle on all matters on your own, you can file without outside counsel. However, this often doesn’t work, as there are usually matters that spouses disagree on or complex financial details that require greater legal finesse.
Where do I find all the divorce documents needed to file in Washington State?
Thankfully, you can print them for free from https://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/ or obtain hard copies directly from your local county courthouse.