The Ultimate Washington Divorce Checklist
- What to consider when preparing for divorce
- Why you need a checklist
- Marital property
- Legal documents and forms
- Key financial items
- Special considerations
Filing for divorce is a life-altering event that requires careful preparation. If you are filing for divorce in Washington, this comprehensive checklist can serve as a guide. You can avoid wasting time by knowing exactly what paperwork you need as you navigate the process.
What to consider when preparing for divorce
As part of your preparations for divorce in Washington, consider how you would like to approach the process from a legal standpoint. Here are two key questions to answer.
- Will you use a mediator or an attorney?
- Will you try to work out the details with your spouse and file for an uncontested divorce, or will you need to have a judge weigh in on the details of how to split up property, manage child custody, and determine amounts of alimony and child support?
The more that you and your spouse can agree in advance on what should happen, the simpler, quicker, and less expensive the process will be. While there are a lot of things for the two of you to consider, here are a few of the most important to get you started:
Asset and debt allocation
During the marriage, you and your partner likely collected several community purchases: cars, boats, a mortgage, or even a vacation home. You also may have built up debt in the form of credit cards and loans that require repayment. For this reason, you will need to decide how to conduct your division of assets and debts.
You and your spouse will need to discuss which of these items to sell in order to get the funds to settle those accounts, who will take over payments if they want full ownership of one of the items, and how to make sure no one is paying more than the other or walking away with more assets than the other.
Financial planning during the process of divorce should take into account the needs of both parties as well as any children in the marriage. You may need to discuss support payments for either partner and potential child support obligations.
To help you come up with an accurate number, it can be helpful to create a budget for each person, noting the costs of the kids as well as the current income of both parties. While you want to take the time to make sure this is done well, support payments can be modified in the future. If one person’s financial situation changes, an adjustment to alimony or child support may be appropriate.
If you and your spouse had children together, you will need to discuss how to handle schedules going forward. Consider where homes are located in relation to school, current friends, and extracurricular activities and how any potential schedule change would affect the child’s sense of stability and ability to be fully supported by both parents.
Type of divorce
Depending on your level of agreement, you’ll file for either a contested or uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce involves both parties reaching an agreement on all issues, while a contested divorce may involve disagreements that require court intervention.
Consider whether mediation could help you facilitate your divorce and talk through any issues where you are far apart in a structured and healthy way. In mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) facilitates negotiations and helps you to reach agreements on issues that may be emotionally charged and difficult to discuss productively without guidance.
Why is a Washington divorce checklist so important to have?
With a Washington divorce checklist in hand, you and your spouse have a roadmap to guide you. A checklist can help you avoid missing important filings as you dissolve your marriage through the court. You will need to gather extensive documentation and fill out more than half a dozen forms (more if you have children together).
A checklist helps you streamline your Washington divorce so you and your ex can make informed decisions along the way that protect each person’s rights and ensure that no one is blindsided. Ultimately, it’s a valuable tool for maintaining order and efficiency during this challenging life transition.
Personal information needed for divorce
You should have a handful of personal documents readily available when initiating a divorce in Washington. These records will help you fill out forms accurately and demonstrate that your requests for judgment are based on facts and not assumptions.
You will need the following:
- Copies of your and your spouse's driver's licenses or identification cards
- Marriage certificate or information regarding the date and location of the marriage
- Documentation of each person’s income, including tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements
- A comprehensive list of assets (property, investments, and vehicles) and debts (mortgages, loans, and credit card balances) acquired during the marriage
- If applicable, information about child custody preferences, visitation schedules, and the best interests of the children
- Consideration of whether spousal support (alimony) will be sought or provided
- Information about health insurance coverage for you, your spouse, and any kids
- Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse, and any dependents
Marital property and divorce in Washington
Washington state law defines marital property as any assets and debts acquired during a marriage. In some cases, it may also apply to property brought into the marriage and used by both parties throughout the marriage, though this is not always the case.
When it comes to dividing marital property, Washington is a community property state. This means that most assets and debts acquired during the marriage must be divided equally unless there are compelling reasons that justify an alternative distribution method. For example, one party may pay a higher percentage of debt if they have a substantially higher income.
Here are some assets that debts that must be considered during a Washington divorce:
The primary residence where you and your spouse reside is often the main focus of property division, but all real estate holdings should be included, such as vacation properties, real estate rental investments, land, and second homes.
Bank accounts, savings accounts, and investment accounts acquired during the marriage should generally be divided equally between spouses. This can be tricky given that both parties likely continue to use these accounts after filing. Make sure you and your spouse open new accounts and agree on how to divide the money in your marital accounts fairly so you can start paying your own bills separately.
Retirement assets and pensions that were amassed during a marriage will usually be divided fairly. To do this, a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) may be necessary. This form provides access to funds in a retirement account to someone who is not officially an owner of that account. Alternatively, spouses may decide to keep their respective accounts or buy each other, out.
Read: What Is a QDRO?
Cars, motorcycles, boats, and other vehicles acquired during a marriage typically fall in the community property category. They should be divided equally or sold so the proceeds can be shared.
It can be challenging to divide personal items like furniture, electronics, and household items between spouses. The options are to sell the larger items and use the funds to pay off marital debt or to fairly split the items so both spouses walk away with things that add up to a similar value.
If one or both spouses acquired businesses during the marriage, their value must be determined, and negotiations must be conducted for their sale or division. In most cases, if one spouse owns and runs the business, they may buy out the interest of the other spouse.
Debts accumulated during marriage
Debts acquired during marriage, such as credit card balances or loans, are usually divided equitably. However, in some cases, more debt may be assigned to one person because they make more money now or incurred more of the debt for their career growth during the marriage (such as school loans) or for other personal reasons.
What legal documents and forms will you need for divorce in Washington?
The specific legal documents and forms required for divorce in Washington may vary depending on the complexity of your case and whether you have minor children. Here are the documents and forms you might need:
- Petition for Divorce (FL Divorce 201)
- Summons: Notice About a Marriage or Domestic Partnership (FL Divorce 200)
- Confidential Information (FL All Family 001)
- Certificate of Dissolution, Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage, or Legal Separation (DOH 422-027)
- Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) (FL All Family 119)
- Response to Petition about a Marriage (FL Divorce 211)
- Notice of Hearing (FL All Family 185)
- Findings and Conclusions about a Marriage (FL Divorce 231)
- Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241)
- Restraining Order (FL All Family 150)
What documents and forms will you need if children are involved?
If children are involved in a divorce in Washington, additional documents and forms are typically required to address child custody, visitation, and child support matters. You may need these:
- Child Support Order (FL All Family 130)
- Information for Temporary Parenting Plan (FL All Family 139)
- Parenting Plan (FL All Family 140)
- Residential Time Summary Report (FL Divorce 243)
- Sealed Financial Source Documents (Cover Sheet) (FL All Family 011)
- Financial Declaration (FL All Family 131)
- Attachment for Residential Split Adjustment (WSCSS - Attachment for RSA)
- Washington State Child Support Schedule – definitions, standards, instructions, and economic table (WSCSS - Schedule)
- Washington State Child Support Schedule Worksheets (WSCSS - Worksheets)
The importance of getting your finances in order
Getting your finances in order before a major life event like divorce is key to helping you minimize disagreements. Financial items to have at the ready include the following:
- Income records: To help determine fair support payment amounts and property division
- Bank statements: To show final account balances and divide the funds equally
- Tax returns: To show income and deductions and to identify potential tax consequences
- Debt records: To acknowledge and allocate shared debts fairly
- Asset documentation: To identify all property and investments owned
- Insurance policies: To find new beneficiaries and adjust coverage if needed
- Budget analysis: To plan for the personal expenses of both parties during and after the divorce and to make lifestyle adjustments as needed
- Retirement account statements: To determine how best to divide retirement savings
- Property and business appraisals: To figure out the value of significant assets, if applicable
- Child-related expenses: To calculate child support and prepare for ongoing financial obligations
Start the process of separating your lives
Once you've collected the necessary documents and submitted the required forms, your divorce process has officially started. However, there are things you can do right away to start the process of rebuilding your life as an independent person:
- Open individual bank accounts and credit cards to avoid financial entanglement and stop using marital funds.
- Revise wills, powers of attorney, and beneficiaries on insurance policies so your ex-spouse is no longer on the forms.
- If kids are involved, create a clear custody and visitation schedule; prepare to adjust these as the children grow and change.
- Build a support system among people you trust, and avoid venting frustrations to shared friends and online.
- Prioritize your own self-care: Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthfully, and creating boundaries that protect your energy and emotional health.
- If you are not employed and need income, take steps to find work and grow your income so you can become financially stable as soon as possible.
Special considerations before divorce
No two divorces are the same, but most follow a similar path – with the exception of a few circumstances that could come with extra requirements or considerations.
These situations require special consideration for a Washington divorce:
As part of a military divorce in Washington, either the military member or their spouse must reside or be stationed there when filing. Military personnel should consider how divorce affects benefits, such as health insurance, and how the nature of military service may have impacted the non-military member’s ability to go to school and grow a career.
Depending on how long the marriage lasted, there may be guidelines on how to divide up pensions and TSP accounts.
If you own a business, your divorce agreement must address ownership and how its value will be divided. You may also need to consider how a divorce or business closure would impact long-term clients and employees.
Same-sex spouses in Washington state enjoy equal rights in divorce proceedings, as the state recognizes and grants the same legal protections to same-sex spouses as it does to heterosexual spouses.
However, if children were adopted or born into the marriage and one spouse is not named on any official paperwork as a parent, it can be tricky to navigate custody and support, especially if relations are hostile between the spouses.
ReferencesRCW 26.09.080: Disposition of Property and Liabilities – Factors. Washington State Legislature.
FAQs About Qualified Domestic Relations Orders. U.S. Department of Labor.
Court Forms: Divorce (Dissolution). Washington Courts.
Division of Child Support | DSHS. (July 2023). Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
Family Law Handbook - Understanding the Legal Implications of Marriage and Divorce in Washington State. (July 2019). Washington Courts.