Washington State FAQ for Ending the Marriage

Residential Requirements.

One party must reside in Washington State. If your spouse lives in Washington State and you do not, you may still be able to file in the county your spouse lives in whether your spouse is in agreement or not. For more information call us at (866) 946-0325.

What are the filing fees in Washington State for a divorce, legal separation or annulment?

Title Service Provided Fee RCW/PCCO
Domestic Relations Filing 200.00 36.18.020(2)(a)
(Dissolution, Judicial Surcharge 40.00 36.18.020(5)(b)
Legal Separation, Victim Assessment Fee 30.00 36.18.016(2)(c)
Invalidity) Court Facilitator 24.00 26.12.240
Surcharge 20.00 PCCO 2008-81
Total: $314.00
  • Filing fee in all counties is between $294 - $314. Lincoln County & Wahkiakum County charge an additional $30 for the "ex parte" signing of the final Order/Decree by the Judge.

Courthouse Facilitators

Most counties have courthouse facilitator programs. A courthouse facilitator is an individual who assists self-represented parties with their family law cases in superior court. A person is self-represented if he or she is not represented by an attorney. Sometimes self-represented parties are referred to as acting "pro se."

Courthouse facilitators are also referred to as court facilitators, family court facilitators, or family law facilitators. Often, the courthouse facilitator's office is located within the courthouse. Some programs are sited in other agencies, such as a volunteer legal service program. It is important to remember that the courthouse facilitator is not your lawyer, cannot give you legal advice, and will not represent you in court. When you meet with the courthouse facilitator, you will be asked to sign a disclaimer informing you of these limitations on the program's services.

What are the cost of parenting classes in Washington State?

All counties, except Lincoln County and Wahkiakum County, require that the parties each take a parenting class. Every court has a list of the authorized providers of the classes. The cost is approximately $60 per person. If you have requested and received a waiver of your filing fee, you may qualify for a waiver of the fee for the class.

Lincoln County & Wahkiakum County - Divorce through the Mail

Filing in Lincoln County Superior Court or Wahkiakum County Superior Court

Pros

If both parties are in agreement everything is completed through the mail and neither party need appear in court. If there are dependent children of the marriage neither party will be required to take parenting classes as required by all other counties. Once the 90 day cooling off period ends the judge will sign your decree and you will be divorced.

Requirements Lincoln County

  • The petitioner must be a Washington resident.
  • If the respondent resides in Washington State the respondent must be in agreement (sign the joinder) for Lincoln County to have jurisdiction. If not you will need to file in the county you or the respondent resides.
  • If the respondent is not a Washington State resident you may file in Lincoln County being no other county has jurisdiction over the respondent.

Requirements Wahkiakum County

  • The petitioner must be a Washington resident.
  • Wahkiakum County does not require the respondent to be in agreement.

Cons

If you have dependent children of the marriage and there will be a need for future modifications of either the child support or parenting plan you should consider the following before electing to file in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County.

  • If both parties will be in agreement of future modifications you will be allowed to file in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County where the filing fee will be $86.00 ($56 filing of an existing case plus $30 exparte fee). Both parties will need to be in agreement to file there. Lincoln County Superior Court or Wahkiakum County Superior Court will retain jurisdiction in these cases.
  • If both parties will not be in agreement of future modifications (99% of the time this reigns true) you must file your modification in the county the children live in. This is the only court that has jurisdiction over the children. Therefore you will need to pay a new filing fee of $260.00 and all subsequent modifications will be $56.00 (at the time of this writing).

What is a marital dissolution in Washington State?

  • Washington State uses the word "dissolution" rather than divorce. It is a court action whereby your marriage is ended.
  • Washington State has a "no fault" dissolution. You do not need to prove that either spouse was "at fault" in order to get divorced. One party only has to claim that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" i.e., the marriage is broken and cannot be fixed.

What is the difference between marital dissolution and legal separation in Washington State?

In Washington State a legal separation, the court may grant all of the relief that is available in a marital dissolution but the court does not actually end the marriage (in other words, the couple is not divorced at the end). Sometimes persons will choose to file for a legal separation instead of a divorce because they do not want to end the marriage, but they want the other relief (such as property and debt division) that is available through a formal legal separation. This may be the case, for example, where a person's religious beliefs discourage him from filing for dissolution.

There are a few important facts about Washington State legal separation that you should keep in mind if you are thinking about filing one:

  • In Washington State you do not need to file a petition for legal separation before filing for marital dissolution. If you want to make sure that you are not responsible for debts your spouse may create after one of you moves out of the house, you should file a marital dissolution and a motion for temporary orders.
  • In Washington State, if you file a legal separation, but your spouse files a counter-petition asking for a marital dissolution, the court will probably enter a marital dissolution. This is because only one spouse must show that there are irreconcilable differences between the spouses in order to get a dissolution.
  • In Washington State, if you file a legal separation, but you later change your mind and want a marital dissolution, you will need to file and serve a new petition for dissolution (unless your spouse has cross-petitioned for a dissolution) or wait the six months required and file a Motion and Order to Convert (see below.)
  • In Washington State, if the court enters a legal separation decree, the legal separation can be easily changed to a marital dissolution. Keep in mind that, once the court enters a decree of legal separation, your spouse can turn it into a divorce without your consent. Any time after six months have passed after entry of the decree of legal separation, either spouse may file a motion with the court to change the decree of legal separation to a decree of dissolution. The court must grant the request. All of the other parts of your legal separation orders (such as the parenting plan and order of child support) will not be affected and will stay in effect.

May I get an annulment instead of a divorce in Washington State?

There is no legal action called an "annulment" in Washington State. There is a little-used action called a petition for a declaration of invalidity, which is like an annulment in that it declares that the marriage was void (could not legally exist) from the day it started. There are very limited circumstances in which you can have your marriage declared invalid.

A Washington State Court can declare a marriage invalid if it decides that the parties should never have been married because:

  • one or both parties were underage (under 17);
  • lack of required parental or court approval for persons under age 18;
  • one or both parties was already married when the marriage took place;
  • the parties are too closely related by blood;
  • one spouse lacked capacity to consent to the marriage (could not give consent), either because of mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • a party was induced to enter into the marriage by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage.

Even if the court finds one of the six factors, the court will declare the marriage valid unless the petitioner also proves that the parties have not "ratified" their marriage (showed that they wanted to continue the marriage) by voluntarily continuing to live together as husband and wife after turning 18, or after having the ability to consent, or after the force or duress stopped or the fraud was discovered. In addition, only the spouse who was the victim of force or fraud may petition for a declaration of invalidity.

What if I reconcile with my spouse after the decree of legal separation has been ordered by a Washington State court?

In Washington State if you and your spouse reconcile and decide you want to continue with your marriage you may file a "Motion and Order to Dismiss the Decree of Legal Separation" with the same court that ordered the Legal Separation.

How important is timing such as who files first for divorce in Washington State?

In Washington State the party who files first is listed as the "petitioner," the other party participates in the divorce as the "respondent." Under Washington law, the person to file first should receive no advantage. However, the person filing first certainly has options that the other party doesn't. For instance, the filing party can control when the first court hearing will occur and has a great influence on what issues will be addressed. The filing party is the first to be able to request "ex-parte" relief from the court and often has the option of where the case where be litigated.

Are there any residency requirements for Washington State?

You and your spouse do not both have to live in Washington State in order for you to be able to file for marital dissolution in Washington. You may file a marital dissolution in Washington State, IF:

  • You live in Washington State; OR
  • Your spouse lives in Washington State; OR
  • You are a member of the armed forces stationed in Washington State; OR
  • Your spouse is a member of the armed forces stationed in Washington State AND your spouse will continue to be stationed in Washington State for at least ninety (90) days following the date that you file and serve the marital dissolution.

What if one spouse has never lived in Washington State?

In order for the Washington State court to make certain types of orders, Washington must have personal jurisdiction over the responding spouse (the one who did not file the dissolution).

Washington State generally will have jurisdiction over the respondent if:

  • The respondent lives in Washington State;
  • The respondent lived in Washington State at some point during your marriage;
  • One of your children was conceived in Washington State;
  • You (the petitioner) have continued to live, or be stationed in the armed forces, in Washington State.

If you are the responding spouse and you have never lived in Washington State, Washington State will not have personal jurisdiction over you unless you do something to give Washington State jurisdiction over you. If Washington State does not have personal jurisdiction over the responding spouse, the Washington State court cannot order that spouse to pay maintenance or any debts, or divide any property that is not physically in Washington State. However, the petitioning spouse may still be able to obtain a divorce even if property issues will not be heard because of lack of personal jurisdiction over the responding spouse. You may agree to Washington State having jurisdiction over you if you would like to do so.

What if I cannot find my spouse?

In Washington State, if you are not able to locate your spouse, you may still be able to file a marital dissolution and serve your spouse by publication. If you serve your spouse by publication, you may ask the Washington State court to end your marriage and divide any property and debts that are located in Washington State. You should think carefully before relying on service by publication, however. First, if you serve your spouse by publication, you must follow the rules for service very carefully - if you do not, your court orders could be set aside years later. Second, service by publication does not give a Washington State court personal jurisdiction over your spouse unless you can prove that your spouse is hiding either inside or outside Washington State in order to avoid being served, or to avoid paying debts. If the Washington State court does not have personal jurisdiction over your spouse, you will not be able to ask the court to order maintenance or enter restraining orders.

In which Washington State County should my divorce be filed?

You may file a petition for dissolution of marriage in the county where you live, or in the county where the respondent lives. If the case is filed in the county where one spouse lives, and the other spouse wants to move the case to the county where she lives, the court may (but is not required to) change venue. There is also the option of filing in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County (no matter which county in Washington either party resides) where everything is filed through the mail and no court appearance is required.

How long does a Washington State divorce take?

In Washington State you must wait at least 90 days after you filed the marital dissolution and you have served it on your spouse before you may enter final orders. However, marital dissolutions often take longer than 90 days. If your spouse responds and does not agree with everything in your petition, the amount of time that will pass until your case is finished will depend on your county and how complicated your case is. In some counties, such as King County, the court will give you the date for your trial at the beginning of the case. In most other counties, you will need to file a request that the court set a trial date after the other parent has filed a response. If you filed the papers in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County and the respondent either signed (agreed) the papers or did not file a response, then the final papers are sent in approximately 1 week before the 90 days is up and thereafter the Judge will sign the final documents.

Who decides who gets property and who pays debts?

In a Washington State divorce, each spouse must tell the court about all of his or her property and debts - separate and community. The court must divide all of the spouses' property and debts in the Decree of Dissolution. Washington State is a community property state. Generally, in Washington State, all property that either spouse gets during the marriage is community property and belongs to both spouses. If property, such as a house, other real estate or a car, is purchased during the marriage, the property is probably community property even if only one spouse is on the title. Each spouse's earnings, any pension benefits accrued, and any 401(k) contributions made during the marriage are community property. Separate property (which belongs to only one spouse) generally is property that the spouse got before the marriage, or which was given to that person by inheritance or gift (whether before or during the marriage), or which the spouse got after separation. (However, if you lived together in a stable relationship before your marriage, the property and earnings that you had during the time that you lived together may also be considered community property). Generally, all debts created by either spouse during the marriage are community debts, which both spouses are equally responsible for paying. Separate debts are those that are made before the marriage or after the date of separation.

When we divorce, will the court divide all of our property and debts 50/50?

In Washington State, the court is not required to award one spouse's separate property to that spouse, or to divide the community property 50/50.

In Washington State, the court can make any division of property and debts that is just and equitable, after considering:

  • The nature and extent [The nature of the property means what type of property it is (real estate, cars, household items, etc.). The extent means how much property there is or how much it is worth.] of the community property;
  • The nature and extent of the separate property;
  • The duration of the marriage; and
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective.

How does the court decide what is a just and equitable division of property and debts?

In Washington State, how much property the court awards to each spouse, and who is ordered to pay what debts, will depend on a number of factors.

In Washington State, the main factor the court will consider is in what type of financial condition will the division of property and debts leave each spouse after divorce. The court generally will not want to leave one spouse extremely wealthy and the other poor. [However, if the marriage is very short (less than five years), and there are no children, the court may decide to return the parties to the financial condition they had before the marriage, even if that means that one spouse ends up much better off.] The court will consider issues such as each party's age, health, education, and prospects for employment. Thus, for example, in a long-term marriage in which one spouse has not worked much outside the home, the court is more likely to award that spouse more of the community property (or long-term maintenance) to make sure that spouse does not end up much poorer than the other spouse. Or, if one spouse is disabled and will not be able to work, the court may award the disabled spouse more of the community property. Likewise, the court may consider which spouse will be able to afford to pay the debts after dissolution when deciding who must pay them.

In most cases, the court will award each spouse his or her separate property and order each spouse to pay his or her separate debts. The court will award one spouse's separate property or separate debts to the other spouse only in very unusual circumstances.

What if I have a prenuptial contract or community property agreement?

Some people sign a written agreement before they marry that states how the parties' property and debts will be divided if they should divorce. This is often known as a prenuptial or ante nuptial agreement. Other people sign an agreement during the marriage regarding their property, which states which property is community and what is separate. This is known as a Community Property Agreement. These are sometimes completed as part of an estate plan. Still others may sign an agreement after they separate that divides property and debts - an agreement known as a Property Settlement Agreement or Separation Contract. In Washington State, this type of contract or agreement may (but does not always) determine how the court will divide property and debts in your particular case.

I bought our car and most other property with my income, so shouldn't the court award the car and other property to me?

Not necessarily. If your car and other property were purchased with money earned during the marriage, it is community property. Each spouse's income during the marriage is community property, so anything that you buy with either spouse's income belongs to both of you. It does not matter whose paycheck was used. In Washington State, the court will divide the car and other property according to what the court decides is just and equitable overall.

My spouse owned our house before our marriage, but we both paid the mortgage. Shouldn't I get part of the house?

Maybe. In Washington State, the court may award you an interest in the house (sometimes called an equitable lien), depending upon a number of factors. Because your spouse bought the house before your marriage, the house is your spouse's separate property. Therefore, the house remains separate, even after you marry (unless the house is given as a gift to the community, such as could happen if it is refinanced in both spouse's names). You may be entitled to an interest in the increase in any value due to improvements (such as a remodel or new deck) to the house, plus the community payments toward the mortgage. However, your community interest would be reduced by the reasonable rental value of the house because you had the benefit of living there during the marriage. Thus, in some cases, the court could rule that you have no community interest in the house because your community contributions were offset by the value you got from living there.

I think we need to sell our house, but my spouse disagrees. Can the court order us to sell the house?

Yes, a Washington State court has the power to order that your house should be sold even if one spouse objects. The court is most likely to do this if a sale of the home is necessary to enable the court to divide the property equitably or if the parties are behind on payments.

Is it true that I have no right to my husband's pension because he earned it?

Not necessarily. In Washington State, retirement or pension benefits, including 401(k) plans that are earned during the marriage, are community property in which both spouses have a legal interest. If a pension was earned both before and during the marriage, the portion of the pension earned during the marriage (and the increase in value of that portion) is community property. Some disability benefits that substitute for pension benefits may also be community property in which both spouses have an interest. You may be able to get an order entered, called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), under which your spouse's pension plan will pay benefits directly to you after your spouse retires.

My spouse had an affair that caused our divorce.

No. Because Washington State has "no fault" divorce, the court may not consider which spouse "caused" the dissolution when deciding how to divide the property. However, the court may consider the conduct of the other spouse if that spouse wasted assets from the marriage without the other spouse's consent, or if that spouse tried to hide assets from the court.

Since the divorce is my spouse's fault, shouldn't the court give me more of the property?

Maybe. In Washington State maintenance, or alimony, is a payment that one spouse makes to the other to provide financial support. Maintenance is not automatically awarded to either spouse.

The court looks at several factors in deciding whether a spouse should get maintenance, including

  • length of the marriage;
  • financial situation of both spouses given the division of property and debts, and the other spouse's ability to pay maintenance;
  • time it will take for the spouse asking for maintenance to get education or training;
  • standard of living during the marriage; and
  • Age and health of the spouse asking for maintenance.

Since I'm not working right now, will the court order my spouse to pay me alimony?

If you have been unemployed for a long time (such as may be the case if you stayed home to care for the children), the court may be more likely to award you maintenance than if you have been laid off temporarily. On the other hand, even if the spouse seeking maintenance is capable of working (or is working to support him or herself), the court may still award maintenance to that spouse if awarding maintenance will help that spouse enjoy the standard of living that was usual during the marriage. The court uses maintenance "not just as a means of providing bare necessities, but rather a flexible tool by which the parties' standard of living may be equalized for an appropriate period of time." Long term or permanent maintenance is more likely to be ordered after long marriages and if one spouse is disabled and/or stayed home to care for the children while the other worked and is therefore less likely to be able to get a well-paying job. Unless the Decree of Dissolution states otherwise, maintenance payments end when the person receiving the payments remarries or dies.

Important information about marital debts.

In Washington State, you may end up paying a debt even if your spouse was ordered to pay it. As part of the final Decree of Dissolution, the court will order one or both spouses to pay any debts that the parties owe. This includes your mortgage, any car loans, credit card debts, utility bills, back taxes, etc. Even if the court orders your spouse to pay a particular debt, the creditor (person to whom the debt is owed) may still come after you to collect any community debts. You will not be able to stop the creditor from collecting from you by telling that person that your spouse is supposed to pay. If your spouse fails to pay the debt and you end up paying it, you will need to sue your spouse in court to force your spouse to pay you back. If you think that this might be a problem, you should make sure that you check the "hold harmless" provision in the Decree of Dissolution form (paragraph 3.6, second box). Then, if you must sue your spouse to force him or her to reimburse you for debts you paid, your spouse will be required to pay your attorney's fees and costs as well.

Your spouse may try to avoid paying marital debts by filing for bankruptcy. If your spouse files for bankruptcy after your Decree of Dissolution is entered, the bankruptcy court may relieve your spouse of paying for those debts. If your spouse files for bankruptcy, you should get notice of it. You should immediately talk with an attorney who is familiar with bankruptcy law about your rights. You may need to participate in the bankruptcy case in order to protect yourself.