Divorce in Washington: An Overview

This is a very high-level overview of divorce in Washington. Keep in mind there are volumes of practice guides, tomes of case law, and multiple chapters in the revised code of Washington. This article explains divorce in an extremely general way.  It is not a substitute for legal advice, as all cases unfold differently. 

3 basic steps of divorce with children in Washington

  1.  Careful review of all assets and debts, determining the nature of the assets and debts (community property or separate property) then deciding an equitable distribution of both assets and debts between the parties. 
  2.  Craft a detailed co-parenting plan which will serve as a court order. Parties can always agree to a slightly different arrangement once the parenting plan is in place, but if the parents don’t agree, the parenting plan as written is the default. This residential schedule includes holidays, school breaks, birthdays, transportation between homes, child-related decision-making rights, etc. The details of the parenting plan must be in the best interest of the child. 
  3.  Review income of both parties and determine child support – to include a basic transfer payment, payment of health insurance for the child, and clarify shared extraordinary expenses of the child.

Marital property and debts

A divorce is the ending of a marriage and involves evaluating all marital property and debt, and then dividing everything in a fair and equitable way. 

Washington is a community property state, which means that anything owned or acquired during the marriage must be divided “fairly and equitably” between the spouses. However, “equitable” doesn’t always mean equal, so everything isn’t thrown into a pot and magically divided 50/50. For example, one spouse may be awarded a higher value in a particular asset, and the other spouse takes a similar dollar value in a different asset. One party could take on more debt, and then be awarded more marital assets. Every situation is different. 

It’s important to note that if you have retirement assets to be divided, a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) attorney will have to prepare the specific forms for the transfer of retirement funds. Drafting QDROs is a particular area of focus for some attorneys.

Need assistance with your QDRO? Our trusted partner, SimpleQDRO, can help.

If you and your spouse or domestic partner own real estate together, you both must decide the equity value of your home and decide how that equity value should be divided. I can guide you through an approved real property division form that covers all aspects of dividing the family home. 

Interested in working with an LLLT? Please read more about my approach on my website

You and your spouse will have to determine whether you wish to sell the property, or if one of you wants to remain living in the house. If one spouse will stay in the home, you both will have to evaluate whether or not the property can be refinanced so that one party is on the mortgage. 

You must also remove the other party from that property title. To do this, an attorney prepares a Quit Claim Deed and tax affidavit. I can also assist you with ensuring the paperwork is filed at your county’s recorder’s office. 

Debts accrued during the marriage can be a challenge for spouses to divide. The best practice is to clearly identify each debt and which party will be responsible for paying it. If the marital home is being sold, community debts may be paid with any remaining proceeds. 


Residential schedule for the children

A divorce with children involves determining a residential schedule, called a parenting plan, that is in the best interest of the children and provides them with the most stability and predictability possible. 

Your parenting plan also addresses parental decision-making on behalf of your shared children. Many parents assume that a 50/50 plan is best, but it may or may not be depending on the age and temperament of the children, the proximity of the parent’s homes, and the ability of the parents to coordinate schedules. Infants, or very young children, are suited to more frequent shorter visits. 

Generally with an infant under a year, the mom may be breastfeeding and more frequent shorter visits with the other parent are more age appropriate.

Child support

In Washington, child support is the child’s right and each parent has the duty to support their children financially. Basic support is the monthly transfer payment from one parent to the other. 

Generally, support is paid to the primary residential parent to use on qualifying children’s expenses. The basic support transfer payment is determined by looking at the income of each parent and applying the Washington State child support schedule.       

Courts in Washington understand that raising kids is costly, and the basic support payment is only meant to cover basic costs, such as housing, heat, and food. Other child-related expenses are considered “extraordinary” expenses. These child-related costs are typically shared by the parents in proportion to their income or ability to pay for them. Parents may agree to share costs like school clubs and materials or fees, sports, dance, art, phones, auto insurance, tutoring, and more. 

In Washington, shared expenses like daycare and medical out of pocket are set by a proportional share of income on line six of the child support worksheet. That's how it’s calculated unless the parents both agree otherwise. The accompanying child support order will clarify which expenses are shared and a payment method.

The court uses specific forms. If you have an agreed divorce, these are the forms required by King County.   I will complete, file, and help finalize the proper court pleadings on your behalf.  In the majority of cases, no final court appearance by the parties is required.  

Divorce is not easy, but finding a guide to assist you every step of the way can make a challenging process less stressful. Hello Divorce and I can help you navigate the court system by completing proper forms, initial filing, and submitting final pleadings to conclude your case.

Want help with your Washington divorce or legal separation? See your options here.
Laura is Hello Divorce's Licenced Legal Technician in Washington State. Becoming a Legal Technician allowed Laura to provide affordable legal services to families in need. She has a passion for collaborative, mediated, dissolution, and client-centered solutions. Dissolving the marital relationship while preserving the needs of children is so important.