In Washington, divorce is called dissolution of marriage. Whether you live in Washington or elsewhere, dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for dissolution of marriage in Washington, at least one of the parties must be a Washington resident, for any amount of time. You may file in the Superior Court or the Family Court (depending upon the county) in the county where the person filing (the petitioner) resides.
The simplest procedure is an uncontested dissolution where you and your spouse can reach an agreement about all issues. You begin by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. These might include a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and a parenting plan regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
Collaborative Divorce. Washington offers this process where each party hires a lawyer to assist them in trying to reach an agreement on all issues. There may also be a facilitator involved, to help focus the discussion. It is similar to mediation. Both parties must agree to this process, and either may stop it at any time. Any agreement will be signed by the parties and submitted to the court to be incorporated into the decree.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for dissolution are legally recognized reasons to get a dissolution. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Washington, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for dissolution. Unlike most states, there are no traditional fault-based grounds. To get a dissolution or marriage in Washington you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken.”
A dissolution involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Generally, each party will keep his or her separate property, which is property acquired:
- before marriage,
- at any time by gift or inheritance, or
- as income from, or an increase in value of, separate property.
All other property is community property. Absent an agreement regarding the division of community property, the judge will divide it, after considering the following factors:
- the nature and extent of community property,
- the nature and extent of separate property,
- the duration of the marriage,
- each party’s economic circumstances, including whether the party having child custody should remain in the marital home, and
- any other relevant factor.
Alimony in Washington
Alimony is referred to as maintenance in Washington. You and your spouse may reach an agreement on maintenance. Absent an agreement, the judge will determine whether to grant maintenance, and the amount and duration, after considering the following factors:
- the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including the separate or community property apportioned to him or her, and the ability to meet his or her needs independently, including whether a provision for support includes a sum for that party,
- the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his or her skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances,
- the standard of living established during the marriage,
- the duration of the marriage,
- the age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the party seeking maintenance,
- the ability of the party from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs and financial obligations while paying maintenance, and
- any other relevant factor (but not marital misconduct).
Child Custody in Washington
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. Washington law now uses terms such as parenting plan, decision-making authority, and residency. It still comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made.
Each party must file a proposed permanent parenting plan. However, if you and your spouse reach an agreement, a joint agreed permanent parenting plan may be filed instead of separate plans. If there is no agreement, a settlement conference will be scheduled before a judge or court commissioner in order to attempt to resolve the matter. If you cannot reach an agreement, the judge will decide the issue, according to the following guidelines:
- One party will be granted sole decision-making authority if:
- the other party’s authority should be limited due to abandonment or refusal to perform parenting functions, abuse of a child, or a history of domestic violence,
- both parents are opposed to mutual decision making, or
- one parent is opposed to mutual decision making, and such opposition is reasonable.
- The court may order mutual decision-making authority after considering:
- each party’s history of participation in decision making,
- the parties’ demonstrated ability and desire to cooperate in decision making, and
- the parties’ geographic proximity to one another, as related to timely decision-making.
- Regarding the child’s residence, the court is directed to make provisions “which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child,” and to establish a residential schedule that considers the following factors:
- the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each party,
- any knowing and voluntary agreements of the parties,
- each party’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions, including whether a party has taken greater responsibility for daily parenting functions,
- the emotional needs and developmental level of the child,
- the child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults, and well the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other activities.
- the wishes of the parties, and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature, and
- each party’s employment schedule (with accommodations with those schedules).
Child Support in Washington
A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. Child support is determined by reference to the Washington child Support Guidelines.
There are mandatory forms approved by the administrator for the courts. A Decree of Dissolution of Marriage may not be entered until at least 90 days after the Petition is served on the other party (the respondent). Either party’s name may be restored or changed.
Filing a divorce can be a complex process, but if you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce you may be able to save time. Following these steps will help you get started with filing a divorce in Washington.
LegalZoom’s Uncontested Online Divorce service is an inexpensive way to file for divorce if you and your spouse agree on most major issues. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney for advice or help filing for divorce through the LegalZoom personal legal plan.