Everything You Need to Know before Getting Divorced in Washington

Washington divorce prerequisites

Do you meet the residency requirement?

Most states have a residency requirement before a divorce case can be ruled upon; you or your spouse must have lived in the state for a certain number of days or months before filing for divorce. However, Washington only requires that you are a resident on the day you file your divorce petition.

Do you have a reason for divorce?

Washington state permits both fault-based and no-fault divorce.

  • Fault-based divorce: One spouse must prove that their marital partner’s misconduct led to the failure of the marriage. Grounds for fault-based divorce in Washington include abandonment, cruelty, adultery, and incarceration.
  • No-fault divorce: In a no-fault divorce, the premise is that it’s nobody’s fault. Simply put, the marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be saved. As such, neither spouse must prove that the other caused or contributed to the dissolution of the marriage.

Washington's no-fault divorce process is commonly known as a "dissolution of marriage" proceeding. When submitting grounds for a no-fault divorce, you simply need to state that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be saved. This assertion alone is usually sufficient grounds for a divorce. However, it's important to note that even in no-fault divorces, other legal issues such as the division of property, child custody, and spousal support must be addressed.

Will you proceed with or waive financial disclosures?

In Washington, financial disclosures are required during the divorce process to allow both parties to have a full understanding of their marital assets and debts. These financial disclosures include all income, assets, debts, and expenses. They allow the court to make informed decisions regarding property division, spousal support, and child support.

Financial disclosures are essential to ensure transparency in the divorce process. They help prevent one spouse from hiding assets or income from the other spouse or the court. Property division, child support, and spousal support are all critical aspects of the divorce process, and failure to disclose relevant financial information could lead to an unfair outcome.

It's important to note that a couple can waive financial disclosures, but this is generally not recommended since it can lead to complications later on. Sometimes, it may even be seen as an attempt to hide valuable assets. 

Read: What Are Financial Disclosures?

Are you required to take a parenting class?

In Washington, all parents involved in a divorce are required to attend a parenting class. The purpose of the parenting class is to help parents understand the impact of divorce on their children, learn effective co-parenting techniques, and reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children.

A parenting class is typically a one-time four-hour course that can be taken in-person or online. The topics covered in these classes include the importance of maintaining open communication with your children, age-appropriate responses to common reactions and behaviors exhibited by children to divorce, how to address and reduce conflicts in co-parenting, parent coordination programs and mediation processes, establishing strong relationships and parental rights, and how to establish a healthy co-parenting plan.

Many states impose a parenting class requirement when parents of minor children divorce. Some of our clients have found these classes very helpful; others have simply tolerated the requirement. The state’s intent is for parents to be fully aware of the impact their divorce has on the kids so they can help their children navigate the change. This is a “blanket requirement” that should not be taken as a judgment, though some parents may perceive it that way.

Remember: Divorce is common, and given the right tools and support, kids and parents can thrive in co-parenting relationships.

Washington is a community property state

Washington is a community property state, which means that all assets acquired during a marriage are considered joint property, with a few exceptions. This includes income earned by either spouse during the marriage as well as property purchased with that income and any debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage.

  • For example, if a couple buys a house with community funds, both hold ownership of the property. In a divorce, the property would be equally divided between the two spouses. 
  • Similarly, if one spouse has a 401(k) plan, it must be divided in half during a divorce, regardless of which spouse contributed more.

It's worth noting that some assets may be exempt from community property, such as gifts or inheritances given to one spouse during the marriage. These are usually considered separate property. However, if those funds are ever commingled with marital assets, they may also be subject to distribution in divorce.

In contrast to community property states, equitable distribution states take a more flexible approach to property division. In such states, marital property is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally between the spouses. The vast majority of US states are equitable distribution states. In these states, judges have more discretion to consider factors such as the length of the marriage, each spouse's contribution to the marriage, and each spouse's financial situation when deciding how to divide assets.

Read: Property Division in Community and Non-Community Property States 

Washington divorce forms and fees

Many divorce forms are required for dissolution of marriage in the state of Washington. The most important, however, are the Petition for Divorce and Summons. These are the two forms that set your Washington divorce in motion. 

On your petition, you'll need to state the reason for your divorce, which could be irreconcilable differences. Once you've filed that form with your local clerk, you'll need to serve your spouse with a copy of the petition, along with the summons, which explains how and when your spouse must reply. Your spouse, the respondent, will then have 20 days to respond if they live in Washington and 60 days if they live outside the state.

Read: How to Serve Divorce Papers on Your Spouse: Methods

The filing fee for a Washington divorce varies based on where you live, but you can expect to pay between $300 and $500 to file your petition. However, you may be eligible for a fee waiver. A divorce fee waiver, also known as an indigency waiver, is a court order that waives the court fees associated with filing for divorce and other associated legal costs. This is typically done to help individuals who cannot afford the significant out-of-pocket expense of filing for divorce in court.

To qualify for a divorce fee waiver, a person must demonstrate that they cannot afford the court costs and fees. This is usually done through an application process in which the individual provides information about their income, expenses, and other factors.

It's essential to note that a divorce fee waiver typically only applies to court fees and may not apply to the cost of hiring a lawyer. Even if you don't think you'd qualify for a full fee waiver, you may qualify for a reduction of fees.

A simplified divorce procedure

The divorce laws in some states offer a simplified divorce process. In Washington, there is no separate process for simplified divorce. However, divorces in Washington can still be divided into two categories: contested and uncontested.

Contested divorce

A contested divorce is one in which the parties cannot agree on the terms of the divorce. This can result in the need for a trial where a judge rules on specific issues such as child support, property division, or alimony. Contested divorces require more time and money due to the need for legal representation, court intervention, and a drawn-out process before a resolution is reached.

Uncontested divorce

An uncontested divorce is one in which the parties agree on all issues, making the process quicker and less expensive. Finances, property division, child custody, and support can all be agreed upon in writing and sent with the court filing. This process typically requires less legal involvement and fewer court appearances.

What are the basic divorce steps in Washington?

In Washington state, the process of getting a divorce typically involves the following steps:

  1.  Completing all necessary divorce forms: The forms typically include the petition for dissolution of marriage, summons, and a variety of financial disclosure forms.

  2.  Filing forms with the court: Once all required documents are completed, they can be filed with the appropriate court in your Washington county. When you file the forms, you will be required to pay a filing fee unless you have received a waiver.

  3.  Serving your spouse: After filing, your spouse must be served with a copy of the petition and summons. This is usually done by a sheriff, professional process server, or third party over the age of 18 who is not involved in the case.

  4.  Attend mediation: In some cases, you'll be required to attend mediation to help you resolve any remaining issues through alternative dispute resolution channels. Typically, child custody issues are addressed at this stage.

  5.  Provide marital settlement agreement to court, or attend trial for a judge to decide remaining issues: If you come to an agreement with your spouse, you'll need to submit a marital settlement agreement to the court that outlines the terms of your agreement. If you're unable to agree on all terms or any single terms, you may need to have a judge decide these issues for you.


What to know about spousal maintenance

Spousal support, also known as spousal maintenance in Washington, is a court-ordered payment made by one spouse to the other during or after a divorce. It is intended to provide financial support for a spouse who is less financially independent or has a lower income than the other spouse.

Spousal maintenance is typically awarded in situations where one spouse has been financially dependent on the other for a significant portion of the marriage. This can be due to factors such as caregiving responsibilities, educational opportunities forgone while investing in the other's career, or a lower earning capacity.

In Washington, spousal maintenance may be temporary or permanent. Temporary spousal support is typically awarded during the divorce process only. It’s designed to provide the lower-earning spouse with support while the divorce proceedings are underway.

The amount and duration of spousal support awarded varies but is typically based on a variety of factors such as the income and earning capacity of each spouse, the length of the marriage, education levels, and the age and health of each spouse.

Child custody and support in Washington

Child support is a court-ordered payment from one parent to the other to help cover the costs associated with raising the child. The payment is intended to cover the costs of necessary expenses such as food, housing, clothing, healthcare, and education.

When determining custody in Washington, the court uses a variety of factors to decide what’s in the child's best interest while taking the child's safety, stability, and welfare into account. These factors include the child's relationship with each parent, each parent's ability to meet the child's needs, the child's adjustment to their new environment, the home environment of each parent, the needs of the child's sibling(s), and the overall stability offered by each parent's home.

Once custody is determined, child support is calculated based on the income of both parents and the amount of time each parent spends with the child. The child support amount is intended to be proportional to each parent's income level and the cost of living for the child.

FAQ about Washington divorce

How long does the divorce process take?

The length of the Washington divorce process varies depending on several factors, including the complexity of the case, whether the divorce is contested or uncontested, and the backlog of cases in the court system.

Legally, the process of divorce in Washington cannot be finalized until at least 90 days after filing for divorce. This 90-day waiting period is designed to allow the parties time to resolve issues such as child custody, property division, and spousal support.

If the divorce is uncontested and both parties agree on all issues, it may be completed within a few months, usually between three to six months. Contested divorces may take several months, or even years, to finalize. This is because contested cases often require multiple court appearances and legal proceedings to resolve outstanding issues.

Can I e-file my divorce papers in Washington?

Yes. E-filing is encouraged but not required if you are representing yourself in your divorce. Electronic filing allows you to file your divorce papers online, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from your computer or smartphone instead of having to visit the court in person. It also allows for faster processing times and easier tracking of important documents. 

To e-file your divorce papers in Washington State, you will need to have access to the Washington State electronic filing system and create an account.

If you're thinking about or going through a divorce in Washington and want help, Hello Divorce is here. Take a look at the online divorce plans we offer and the flat-rate services we provide. To speak with a real person about what we can do to help you, schedule a free 15-minute introductory call.

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.