Washington, Do It Yourself Documents 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 agrees 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
  • The filing fee in all counties is $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 called court facilitators, family court facilitators, or family law facilitators. Often, the courthouse facilitator's office is located within the courthouse. Some programs are cited 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 program services' limitations.

What is the cost of parenting classes in Washington State?

All counties, except Lincoln County and Wahkiakum County, require the parties to 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 for the class fee.

Lincoln County & Wahkiakum County - Divorce through the Mail

Filing in Lincoln County Superior Court or Wahkiakum County Superior Court


If both parties agree, everything is completed through the mail, and neither party needs to 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 divorce you.

Requirements Lincoln County

  • The petitioner must be a Washington resident.
  • If the respondent resides in Washington State, the respondent must agree (sign the joinder) for Lincoln County to have jurisdiction. If not, you must file in the county you or the respondent resides in.
  • If the respondent is not a Washington State resident, you may file in Lincoln County since 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 agree.


If you have dependent children in the marriage and there is 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 agree on future modifications, you can file in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County, where the filing fee will be $86.00 ($56 filing of an existing case plus a $30 exparte fee). Both parties will need to agree to file there. Lincoln County Superior Court or Wahkiakum County Superior Court will retain jurisdiction in these cases.
  • If neither party agrees with 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 must pay a new filing fee of $260.00, and all subsequent modifications will be $56.00 (at the time of this writing).

What is 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" to get divorced. One party only must 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, in a legal separation, the court may grant all 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, people 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. For example, this may be the case where a person's religious beliefs discourage him from filing for dissolution.

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

  • In Washington State, in a legal separation, the court may grant all 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, people 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. For example, this may be the case where a person's religious beliefs discourage him from filing for dissolution.
  • 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 to get a dissolution.
  • In Washington State, if you file a legal separation but 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. Remember 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 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 were already married when the marriage took place;
  • the parties are too closely related by blood;
  • one spouse lacked the 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, duress, or 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 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? Who files for divorce in Washington State first?

In Washington State, the party that files first is listed as the "petitioner," the other party that participates in the divorce is called 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 greatly influences 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 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?

For the Washington State court to make certain 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.

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

What if I cannot find my spouse?

In Washington State, if you cannot 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 in Washington State. However, you should think carefully before relying on service by publication. 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 inside or outside Washington State to avoid being served or paying debts. If the Washington State court does not have personal jurisdiction over your spouse, you cannot 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 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 the 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 file the marital dissolution and have served it to 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 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 must file a request for the court to set a trial date after the other parent has filed a response. Suppose you filed the papers in Lincoln County or Wahkiakum County, and the respondent either signed (agreed) the papers or did not file a response. In that case, the final papers are sent approximately 1 week before the 90 days are 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 his or her property and debts - separate and community. The court must divide the spouse's 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 or belongs to both spouses. Suppose property, such as a house, other real estate, or a car, is purchased during the marriage. In that case, the property is probably community property, even if only one spouse is on the title. Each spouse's earnings, pension benefits accrued, and 401(k) contributions made during the marriage are community property. Separate property (which belongs to only one spouse) generally is a property that the spouse got before the marriage, which was given to that person by inheritance or gift (whether before or during the marriage), or the spouse got after separation. (However, if you lived together in a stable relationship before your marriage, the property and earnings you had during your time 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 made before the marriage or after the date of separation.

When we divorce, will the court divide all 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 are 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 property division is to become effective.

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

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

In Washington State, the court will consider the type of financial condition in which the division of property and debts will 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 cannot work, the court may award the disabled spouse more of the community property. Likewise, the court may consider which spouse can 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 antenuptial 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 contract or agreement may (but does not always) determine how the court will divide property and debts in your 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 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.

My spouse owned our house before 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 several 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 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 can order that your house should be sold even if one spouse objects. The court is most likely to do this if a home sale 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 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 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 a "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 other spouse's conduct if that spouse wasted assets from the marriage without the other spouse's consent or 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 an extended period, such as if you stayed home to care for your children, the court may be more inclined to grant you maintenance than if you were temporarily laid off. However, even if the spouse seeking maintenance can work or is currently employed, the court may still award maintenance if doing so would help that spouse maintain the standard of living 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 lengthy marriages, especially if one spouse is disabled or stays home to care for the children while the other works and is, therefore, less likely to secure a well-paying job. Unless the Decree of Dissolution states otherwise, maintenance payments cease upon the remarriage or death of the recipient.

Important information about marital debts.

In Washington State, you might still be responsible for paying a debt even if the court ordered your spouse to pay it. When finalizing a divorce, the court will decide which spouse has to pay any outstanding debts, including mortgages, car loans, credit card bills, utility bills, and back taxes. However, even if the court instructs your spouse to cover a specific debt, the creditor can still pursue you for payment. You can't avoid this by informing the creditor that it's your spouse's responsibility to pay. If your spouse doesn't pay and you end up paying the debt, you would need to take legal action against your spouse to get reimbursed. To avoid this situation, you should ensure that the "hold harmless" provision in the Decree of Dissolution form is checked (paragraph 3.6, second box). If you must take legal action against your spouse to recover the debts you paid, your spouse will be required to cover your attorney's fees and costs.

If your spouse tries to avoid paying marital debts by filing for bankruptcy after your divorce is finalized, the bankruptcy court may relieve them of paying those debts. If your spouse files for bankruptcy, you will be notified, and it's important to speak with a bankruptcy attorney right away to understand your rights. You might need to be involved in the bankruptcy case to protect yourself.