Your Complete Guide to Getting a Divorce in Washington

What We Cover In This Article

Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives


Any divorced individual will tell you that the process of filing for and obtaining a divorce is exhausting. It is a significant change in your life and a complicated legal process.

Divorce can trigger intense emotions like sadness, rage, fatigue, confusion, relief, and more.

You will be even more confused if you are not already familiar with the laws and nuances in Washington before starting your journey. When considering ending your marriage, you likely feel lost among all of the available information and opinions around you.

Fortunately, we have put together a comprehensive guide to Washington divorce to lessen this confusion and help you get through this process.

Read on for all the information you need to navigate the Washington State family law system, including:

  • The available types of divorce
  • The specific laws that surround each situation
  • Whether or not you should hire a lawyer
  • What to expect regarding child custody
  • Considerations relating to child support and alimony
  • The costs of divorce
  • How long getting divorced in Washington will take
  • Much more 

Take note that we will typically provide information that is accurate to the entire state of Washington. You can find information specific to your locality at your local county court.

There may be further steps to take and forms to complete that do not apply to the rest of Washington.

Types of Divorce Laws in Washington 

Each state governs its divorce processes with specific laws. The Revised Code of Washington contains all of the laws and procedures that dictate how to conduct legal activities in the state.

Title 13 of the state code very clearly describes the Washington statutes on domestic relations, which include:

  • Marriage
  • Separation 
  • Divorce 
  • Child custody
  • Domestic abuse

Chapter 26.09 and its dozens of sections are about dissolution proceedings and legal separation.

The state code covers every possible situation and provides clear guidelines for all scenarios. The laws detail every step of the dissolution process and describe how the courts must tackle child custody, child support, alimony, property and debt division, and anything else.

Divorce in Washington is not subjective. You must follow the state laws. Miniscule errors or careless mistakes will cause a delay in your divorce.

This article will refer to the legal end of a marriage as “divorce” and “dissolution” interchangeably. The State of Washington uses the word “dissolution” in most of its publications and policies.

You can pursue different types of divorce in Washington. The kind you will get depends on whether or not you and your spouse agree on the terms of the dissolution and how amicable or contentious your relationship is.

No-Fault Divorce  

In the United States, there are many different reasons for a divorce. These are called grounds. In some states, like Washington, you do not need a specific ground or reason to request the end of your marriage. Washington is considered a “no-fault” divorce state.

A no-fault divorce needs no evidence of misdeeds or a reason from either partner to dissolve the marriage.

In an at-fault divorce in another state, one party would accuse the other of misconduct during their marriage. Washington does not allow this and does not make either party prove wrongdoing on the part of their ex-spouse. 

Section 26.09.03 of the Washington State Code spells out the details of the State’s divorce laws. Splitting couples must meet the legal requirements to end their marriage in Washington. The only reason or ground required of them is that their marriage is broken irretrievably. 

There is a 90-day mandatory waiting period from the time that either party files the dissolution petition before the court will take further action. 

There are two kinds of divorce in Washington: contested and uncontested divorces. They affect which procedures you will follow and how long the dissolution process will take.

Determining whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested will depend on your situation and whether you and your ex agree on all terms of the divorce, and how you wish to proceed.

Unless you can’t locate them or there is an immediate risk of danger if you and your partner interact, you should talk about the impending legal process with your spouse and attempt to create a fair and just agreement. There may be many details for you and your spouse to work out together.

One detail will make a divorce more complicated than you would expect. Child custody often leads to an emotional and contentious fight between you and your ex. If you struggle to agree on a custody plan, you have to learn the custody laws in Washington and understand how they will work during the divorce process.

Along with custody, another point of friction is financial support. If you or your spouse will have to pay child support or alimony (also known as spousal support), you may find it more challenging to get along. You and your ex probably won’t see eye-to-eye and might need a judge to intervene to keep the peace.

One of you might wish to divide your assets in the divorce. Washington is a community property state, which means that all assets acquired during a divorce are considered the property of both spouses. The court will divide assets equally and fairly.

We will go over all conditions you must consider when going through a divorce in Washington state. First, we will review the two types of divorce.

Contested Divorce

A contested divorce is a divorce where you or your soon-to-be-ex-spouse oppose the terms of the divorce suggested by the other partner.

Contested means you disagree on one or more matters involved in the dissolution. These disagreements can be any of the following:

  • Whether or not you wish to be divorced
  • How you should divide your property
  • Distribution of marital debt
  • Child custody or visitation schedules
  • Whether either of you should pay child support
  • Whether one of you owes spousal support/alimony
  • Any other issue the court must now arbitrate

Ideally, you would avoid a contested divorce and work together to resolve everything fairly with your partner. It is simpler to agree on fair terms than to have a courtroom battle with a judge deciding your fate.

With the involvement of a judge, one or both parties may be unhappy with the outcome. It’s challenging to have a neutral party make decisions about your life.

However, in a few circumstances, mediating terms between the two parties is challenging or unfeasible. In these cases, you will proceed with a contested divorce and leave the issues to the judge:

  • Domestic Violence History: In a marriage with a history of domestic violence, it is better to avoid harm or the threat of injury and stay safe by letting the court decide.
  • Unfit Parent: If there is a danger to the minor child in custody matters, you will be required to prove it to the court.

Extenuating circumstances: Circumstances where you might need a judge include

  • You and your ex-spouse disagree strongly.  
  • There is a danger to you or a child if you attempt to mediate. 
  • Financial assets have been hidden from you or the court. 

A contested divorce sometimes requires multiple hearings and a long litigious process. Both parties will present their case and evidence, and the judge will hear the information. 

The court will deliberate custody and support issues, marital property partitioning, and anything else you need help figuring out during your divorce. When possible, it is better to proceed with an uncontested divorce. 

Pros & Cons

  • You can fight for what you feel you deserve
  • If you and your spouse can not get along, this will help move through the process with 3rd parties
  • You may have to go to trial
  • These types of divorce tend to take much longer
  • It's more expensive than uncontested or simplified divorces
  • Typically more stressful

Uncontested Divorce 

An uncontested divorce is much easier than a contested divorce. The spouses will agree on the terms of the dissolution and work together to complete the process without fighting. There are two ways for an uncontested dissolution to occur in Washington State.

Sole Petitioner

The first way is when one party files as the sole petitioner. The other spouse, or the respondent, has twenty days to file a response. The respondent can file an answer stating they dispute the terms proposed by the petitioner. In this case, the case will proceed as a contested divorce.

For the divorce to be uncontested, the respondent must file a response stating that they agree with the divorce terms. After the 90-day waiting period, the judge can then order the dissolution and grant the sole petitioner everything they asked for.

If the respondent fails to file a response, the petitioner may file a Motion for Default. If the judge signs the order, the judge can sign the Dissolution Decree, otherwise known as the Final Divorce Order (FL Divorce 241), once the ninety days are up. Once this is signed, your marriage will be over.

Joint Petitioners 

The other way to obtain an uncontested divorce is for the two parties to file together as joint petitioners. Using a joint petition is an easy way for you and your spouse to go separate ways amicably. 

While a joint petition is the simplest way to end your marriage, not everyone qualifies. You must meet some requirements for a joint dissolution. These requirements are:

  • You and your spouse have been married for between 1 and 3 years
  • The two of you share no minor children
  • No adult children depend on you or your spouse
  • You or your spouse are not pregnant
  • You have less than $30,000 in personal property together
  • There is less than $15,000 in debt in the marriage
  • Neither party is requesting spousal support

Even though many couples do not qualify for filing jointly, they can still get divorced quickly and easily if all parties agree on the divorce terms.

For an uncontested dissolution, you both must agree on all elements of the divorce, including child custody and support, if applicable. If you have children under the age of 18 together, the court might require you and your spouse to take a parent education course.

If you and your spouse cooperate on the divorce and file jointly or agree to the proposed plan right away, you will save yourselves plenty of time, stress, and money. Uncontested dissolutions are always preferable over contentious court battles.

Pros & Cons

  • Uncontested divorces save you time and money
  • Drama free way to end the marriage
  • These divorces tend to process quicker
  • You can avoid taking the divorce to trial
  • Requires the ability to navigate the divorce process
  • If domestic violence is involved, a contested divorce is safer
  • Neither spouse can demand additional spousal support or child support unless the other agrees.
  • Both spouses give up the right to appeal the terms of the divorce in the future.
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What We Recommend
How to File for Divorce in Washington without a Lawyer

If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in Washington, divorce can cost over $12,000 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.

We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.

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Key Takeaways
Washington state divorce laws are particular. Everyone must comply with each applicable law throughout the divorce process and conduct their business legally and correctly. The types of divorces are contested and uncontested. The best way to dissolve a marriage is with an uncontested divorce, but a contested divorce is sometimes needed.

Residency Requirements in Washington 

When you want to get a divorce, you must first determine which court or state has jurisdiction over your marriage and the impending dissolution.

This information is vital to your case because every state has different conditions for deciding residency in divorce cases. If you file a dissolution action in a state where you don’t meet the residency requirements, the court will dismiss your case.

Section 26.09.030 of the Revised Code of Washington lists the residency requirements.

To qualify as a Washington resident and obtain a divorce in the state, you only need to fit one of the residency requirements.

  • You must be a resident of the State of Washington, or
  • You must be a member of the Armed Forces stationed in Washington, or
  • You must be married to someone who meets one of the last two requirements.

There is not a minimum length of time that you or your spouse are required to be domiciled in Washington before the divorce commences.

Where to File for Divorce 

You should file the petition for divorce in Washington county, where you or your spouse lives. If your spouse resides out of state, you file in the county where you live. 

In actions where one partner lives outside of Washington, the court can legally end the union. Still, they may not order specific stipulations, like child spousal support, because Washington cannot enforce these across state lines.

What to Do If I Cannot Locate My Spouse? 

A question about divorce that we often hear is, “what do I do if I cannot locate my spouse?” Being unable to locate or contact your ex is challenging, but it does not mean you cannot obtain a divorce.

You must make a genuine effort to find your spouse by law. This effort should include:

  • Contacting your ex’s family or friends 
  • Conducting internet and social media searches 
  • Getting in touch with their last known employer 
  • Checking the post office and military records if it applies 

You must show due diligence and present the judge with your search records. If you are unsuccessful, you will file a Motion to Serve by Publication, requesting that the judge grant an Order to Allow Service by Publication.

This motion will only apply if you can genuinely prove one of the following:

  • You do not know where your ex lives or works and have no way of locating them or finding a forwarding address.
  • Your former spouse deliberately hid from the person trying to serve them with the petition.

If you are granted service by publication, you will publish a notice in an approved local newspaper instead of a process server giving the divorce papers to your ex-partner. 

This notice will inform your spouse of your intentions. You must publish the information once a week for six weeks. If your ex does not respond, the judge will probably grant a default judgment on your terms.

Key Takeaways
In every divorce action in Washington, one or both parties must be a resident of the state or stationed there with the military. If you can’t locate your spouse, you will need to make reasonable efforts to find them or file a motion to serve by publication.

Grounds for Divorce in Washington

Washington is a no-fault divorce state. In a divorce action, the court will not consider the misdeeds of either party. Neither spouse will be allowed to use the other spouse’s wrongdoing as the basis for the process. When granting the divorce, a judge cannot entertain any allegations (such as adultery).

There is a difference between Washington and some of the other no-fault states. While other states, like California, won’t let either party blame the other party for the divorce, Washington will allow judges to consider the transgressions of either party in certain situations.

Considering Transgressions 

The judge in Washington may consider these poor actions when deciding on child custody. In this circumstance, the misconduct may indicate a danger to the child and lead to a less favorable divorce settlement for the misbehaving party. Misconduct only applies if the misdeeds involve domestic abuse or sexual misconduct.

Some states with at-fault divorces will grant a dissolution based on one party’s drunkenness, cruelty, adultery, insanity, or more. A Washington family court will not require or admit any evidence of these allegations unless in the previously mentioned situation.

The only ground for divorce that Washington recognizes as valid is an irretrievably broken marriage. An irretrievably broken marriage means that there is no chance that the couple will reconcile. Washington does not require proof of this. 

Key Takeaways
Washington is solely a no-fault divorce state. Partners cannot cite misdeeds committed during the marriage as the basis for their divorce. The only acceptable grounds in Washington State are irreconcilable differences that cause an irretrievably broken marriage.

Using a Washington Divorce Attorney 

Perhaps the most important consideration when approaching a divorce is whether or not you will hire a divorce attorney. There are situations where you will need counsel and ones where you probably can represent yourself.

Hiring an Attorney in Washington 

In a joint petition, where you and your ex agree on all of the issues and are not asking the courts to make any decisions for you, you can skip spending the money on a lawyer and represent yourselves.

If you are attempting a simple DIY dissolution and expecting an uncontested divorce, you may not need legal representation. However, if you encounter any unexpected issues or have unresolved questions about your divorce process, we recommend contacting a professional.

Many factors affect the potential necessity of hiring a divorce lawyer. 

Contentious or Contested Divorce

If the divorce is contentious and there are disagreements and fighting between you and the other party, you should hire representation. 

Having representation makes sure that you protect your rights. An attorney is somebody who can speak for you during the legal process so that you can rest easy knowing you have an advocate who understands the intricacies of family law and will follow state statutes to the letter.

Peace of Mind and Organization 

We previously mentioned how important it is to file for divorce correctly and become comfortable with the specifics of your local laws. When you choose to retain legal counsel, you purchase peace of mind. 

It’s your lawyer’s job to make sure that your paperwork is accurate and legitimate and that you avoid the court dismissing or delaying your case. You won’t have to work too hard on the legal side of things. 

Asset and Debt Distribution 

If you and your spouse have assets or debt that you have to split and you are struggling to decide how to do this equally and fairly, you need professional help. Your attorney can answer any questions about this process and suggest resolving disagreements so that you are not in an ugly fight in court.

Child Custody

You are more likely to need a lawyer if there are any disagreements between you and your ex on child care. Representing yourself in a complex case is risky because you could end up with an unfair outcome. It’s challenging to advocate for yourself in these situations.

If you and your ex share minor children, retain a lawyer unless the two of you can agree to everything in your divorce judgment. Custody, parenting time, and child support are all problems that can make one side or the other heated and angry. Going into a custody battle without a lawyer could hurt you or your child(ren).

To protect yourself and your children during this process, hire a skilled attorney for any contested divorce that involves minor children.

Meeting the Deadlines 

An attorney files your paperwork on time while following the proper procedures. The knowledge that someone is accurately taking care of all the administrative pieces of your divorce is precious.

It’s also helpful having somebody who is on your side entirely. Divorce is puzzling and emotional. It feels draining and isolating. Your attorney will advocate for you and ensure that your settlement is just. Navigating the complicated legal system with a legal professional acting on your behalf is invaluable.

Difficulties When Hiring an Attorney 

Hiring legal representation can also have disadvantages.

Loss of Personal Autonomy 

One downside that many people don’t consider is the loss of personal autonomy. You retain a lawyer so that they commit to representing your best interests. However, you may disagree with your attorney on your best interests. 

You might feel like you have to make a decision that you oppose, or you might not like an action your lawyer wants to take in court. It feels invasive when another person is involved in making life-changing decisions in your personal life.

Cost of an Attorney 

The biggest drawback is the cost of representation. Hiring a lawyer may cost you thousands of dollars. If your separation is highly contentious, a lawyer could end up costing an arm and a leg. 

To save money, we suggest representing yourself if you could solve your divorce issues quickly because you and the other party agree on how to handle everything. If you can file the paperwork with the court on your own and don’t need help settling disagreements, you can save money.

Hiring a lawyer for your divorce action can be challenging because you are trusting a stranger. They may be a legal professional, but they will still influence the outcomes of your divorce. Because of this, you need to trust your attorney and be comfortable talking about all of your legal issues together.

Since this period of your life represents a fundamental transition, make sure your lawyer is reliable and trustworthy. Locating the best, experienced lawyer is a rough process, and it is one you need to start the second that you choose to get a divorce.

If you are low-income, you can check out some of Washington’s resources for free and reduced-cost attorneys and legal advice. 

Read More: Divorce advice for men or Divorce advice for women

What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?

A reasonable family law attorney will have several desirable traits. You must find a lawyer who has all or most of the qualities you seek and is a good fit for your specific case. 

At the beginning of your hunt for legal counsel, write down these attributes, along with any others that are important to you. This task will assist you in narrowing down your list of candidates so that you can select the best possible representation. 


Your divorce should be handled by a professional well-versed in Washington family law, especially divorce.

A skilled divorce lawyer can quickly answer your inquiries about a complicated divorce case. If your situation or problem is unique, the attorney you choose should have experience with that specific scenario. Your case should not be novel for your lawyer, or they may lose focus on your needs.

Communication Skills

Communication is vital. Your lawyer must champion you and make statements on your behalf in the courtroom, so clear and concise communication is desirable. If you need to ask a question about your divorce, you will want an answer quickly. Many attorneys receive complaints that they do not respond fast enough to questions.

You must ensure that whoever you hire is available to answer your calls or emails in a reasonable timeframe. Attorneys may have a full caseload and not have the time to answer every phone call immediately. Your lawyer might be slow to respond.

Because of this, your counsel’s firm should have someone designated to answer client questions when the attorneys are busy. 


Outside of clear communication, legal professionals should have superior people skills. The best attorneys can impress judges, opposing counsel, and clients with their charm and personality.

You should feel comfortable with your lawyer. If they seem scary or intimidating, it will be hard for you to work with them or request their assistance. Your attorneys should radiate trustworthiness and honesty. Interpersonal skills are super essential for any attorney.

How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney

It’s time to find an attorney that embodies the qualities you are looking for. Your lawyer will have a massive influence on your divorce proceedings, so you want to choose the best one.

Decide on a Budget 

Be realistic about what the divorce will cost and how much you can afford. Budget for more than your prediction to give yourself a buffer amount, just in case you exceed your budget or there is an unexpected cost or delay.

You will want to discuss your budget and potential costs openly with potential attorneys. You both should be honest about your expectations to avoid surprises during the legal process.

Create a List 

Next, create a list of available local attorneys. Write down candidates in the area. Before contacting them, pare your list down with the next few steps.

Speak to Friends and Family 

Speak to your friends and family members who have gotten divorced. Inquire about their representation and get truthful input on their lawyer’s performance.

Read Reviews

Read reviews of local attorneys online. Testimonials are sometimes hosted on legal review sites and social media. You can cross off any attorneys that don’t impress you. 

Contact Offices About Pricing 

Next, contact the remaining offices and chat with the attorney or paralegal about prices. Remember that they will only give you an estimate and possibly a range based on their standard fees and relevant experience. The actual cost of your divorce will depend on all of the different involved factors.

If an attorney has a retainer or hourly fee that surpasses your budget, you can cross them off your list before meeting them. That way, nobody’s time is wasted.

Schedule Consultations 

Arrange your list based on your current preferences. Start to schedule consultations with the lawyers on your list. Do this one by one. Begin with your first choice or the attorney who impresses you the most.

At the consultation, describe the facts of your divorce case, ask for their feedback, and ask some interview questions to see if the lawyer fits your needs. If you are impressed with the first lawyer you meet, you can go ahead and hire them. 

If you still have to review your other choices, move to the next name on the list and schedule an interview.

Before you select representation, make sure of a few things. You need to be comfortable with your choice, and they should be knowledgeable and have plenty of experience. Make sure you two communicate well during your meeting. 

Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys

There are many questions that you should ask a lawyer before hiring them. We’ve compiled a list of some essential questions, but write down any other questions that come up to bring with you to the meeting.

Do You Specialize in Divorces? 

Lawyers can be generalists or specialists. You want to hire a divorce specialist. You want to feel confident that your attorney knows family law and understands the intricacies of divorce in your area. Family law can be very complicated and scary, so trusting your matter to someone knowledgeable is crucial.

How Many Cases Like Mine Have You Handled?

Experience is essential, and you want the peace of mind of knowing your lawyer has seen cases similar to yours.

How Long Does it Take You to Return Phone Calls or Answer Questions?

Lawyers can have a full schedule loaded with commitments to many different clients. It’s reasonable to expect them to take a few hours to return your call. On the other hand, waiting for several days for an attorney to respond to a simple question usually indicates that you are not working with a dependable attorney. 

What Strategy Would You Recommend for My Situation?

After they hear the specifics about your situation, the lawyer should be able to give you a general overview of how they would proceed with your dissolution. This strategy will help you decide if your attorney can make good decisions in your divorce.

What Other Costs Should I Expect Throughout This Process?

Divorces have a lot of variables. After reviewing your case, an experienced attorney would be able to guess which incidental costs are likely to arise.

Is the Initial Consultation Free?

Whether or not a consultation is free depends on each individual attorney. Many offer a free initial consultation, while others have consultations at their standard hourly fee. Some lawyers may charge a reduced rate for a shorter consultation.

Some programs provide legal assistance, like reduced-fee or free consultations. Check with your local county court for a complete listing of legal aid organizations available to you.

Is the Meeting Confidential?

Your initial meeting with an attorney is meant to be discrete. Even when you choose not to hire a lawyer, they must protect your information. A lawyer you have met with cannot work with your ex for the divorce, as it is a conflict of interest.

Pros of Using an Attorney

The advantages of using a lawyer in your divorce include the following:

Lawyers understand the complicated details and specifics of Washington law. They know what you may be entitled to from your divorce and what elements could affect the outcome. Attorneys can also discern what is essential to the judge so they can prioritize those issues.

Reduced Stress 

Ending a marriage is stressful, emotional, and challenging for anyone, even more so when it is a contested proceeding. Hiring legal counsel provides you with an expert on your side and ultimately gets the state code and the family law process. 

You will only have to provide them with any information and signatures they ask for. This process removes responsibility from you and reduces your stress, which is always positive.

Dissolutions involve more paperwork than anyone wants to fill out! Lawyers make sure all of your documents are completed concisely submitted within the deadlines. 


You pay your counsel to be on your side, but they are a legal professional without an emotional attachment to you, your ex, or the outcome of your case. The result is that they provide an unbiased view on the issues so that you can be sure you are viewing the case logically and not through your emotions.

Cons of Using an Attorney 

We also want to review the disadvantages of hiring a lawyer:

They Are Expensive 

While you will hopefully hire someone with low prices, an attorney is still costly, and most people cannot keep paying them for too long. That can lead someone to file for an uncontested or joint petition even if they want to contest the proposed order.

You Don’t Always Agree 

Bringing in a stranger to work with you could take some of your control over the divorce. Navigating disagreement with your counsel is very hard.

More Contention

Even if hiring an attorney is not a malicious action on your part, the other party may see it as an attack. 

Your spouse could feel caught off guard and assume the worst about your litigation plans. This contention can cause drama, heightened emotions, and fighting, especially during an uncontested case.

Key Takeaways
The decision to hire a lawyer could depend on many factors. Several things affect your ultimate cost and ability to move forward with an attorney. Whether it is contested or uncontested, this kind of divorce is one of the most significant factors as to whether or not you need a lawyer.

Filing for Divorce in Washington 

Filing for divorce is the part of the process that requires the most care and knowledge. When you don’t know how the process works, getting your petition filed is a huge challenge and can feel like a barrier to obtaining your divorce and moving on with your life.

We designed an in-depth guide with explanations of each step so that you can proceed confidently.

This is an appropriate overview for people getting a divorce without an attorney. You do not have to worry about most of this section if you hire representation. Your lawyer will find and prepare the correct forms and ensure that this part of the process is handled.

Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.

Preparing Your Divorce Forms

The first step to filing for a dissolution of marriage is gathering the correct forms and filling them out correctly. You must determine what type of divorce you and your spouse are pursuing and which documents you will need. 

Most of the forms are available on the Washington Courts website, but you can also find them on your county family court page. If you cannot locate the paperwork you need, contact your local family court.

You can find complete packets online that contain specific step-by-step instructions for completing and filing your Washington divorce forms. 

The packet you will need depends on whether you and your ex have children or not, and whether your divorce is contested, or whether the two of you agree on the issues. 

Each packet will include a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with forms that request various forms of relief.

If you plan to file jointly with your ex-spouse, you will follow the same procedures, but you will fill out a “joinder” and attach it to the Petition. 

Read the instructions in your divorce packet carefully and fill out every document that pertains to your situation.

In a typical divorce, you will complete and file the following forms:

  • The “Summons” – Notice About a Marriage or Partnership (FL Divorce 200): This form will serve as the notice to your spouse that you are commencing an action in family court.
  • Petition For Divorce (Dissolution) (FL Divorce 201):  Fill this out with complete information on you and your spouse. The Petition requests that the court commence your action.
  • Confidential Information (FL All Family 001): All personal information, like social security numbers, for all involved parties, should be recorded on this page and never on other documents.
  • Certificate of Dissolution (DOH 422-027): This is a Department of Health form that will record information about your partnership and divorce with Vital Statistics.
  • Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) (FL All Family 119): You and your spouse will sign this and attach it to your Petition if you are filing jointly. 
What We Recommend
3StepDivorce For Online Divorces In Washington

If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.

We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.

Visit 3StepDivorce Read Our Review
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Filing Your Divorce Forms

Now that your paperwork is ready for submission, you must take it in person or mail it to the county courthouse. 

Most courts have staff available to review your forms for completion and advise you on correctly filling and filing them. These staff members are not lawyers and will not give any legal advice about your divorce. 

You must pay the filing fee before your divorce action commences. In most counties, it is just under $300. You can file a waiver to remove this fee if you can’t afford it.

You can use an online divorce service to fill out and mail your initial divorce papers. We will review this process in a later section.

Serving Your Spouse

You have to serve your ex with the divorce papers. If you do not, the petition will not be considered valid, and the court will dismiss your case.

Your ex-partner can sign an Acceptance of Service form (FL All Family 117)stating they concur that you provided them with a copy of your petition and summons. They will sign this form when you file jointly, or you two get along well.

If they do not sign this, you must serve them. If you hire a lawyer, this portion is their responsibility. If you represent yourself, you must have an attorney, process server, or another individual serve the papers to your ex.

If you can’t find your partner, you will follow the previously described procedures to request service by publication.

Financial Disclosures 

“Financial disclosures” means any document that requires you to disclose your:

  • Property 
  • Assets
  • Income information

When one party requests any sort of relief, like property and debt division, alimony, or child support, both individuals must provide a comprehensive view of their finances.

Financial disclosures include information about: 

  • Earned income 
  • Assets
  • Debts owed 
  • Property and real estate 
  • Retirement or investment accounts 
  • Other financial information 

The requested information is used to determine which party might be entitled to the relief or support in question. 

Always provide accurate and honest financial information. You will face the consequences of lying about your information to the court.

Key Takeaways
Washington makes filing for divorce simple compared to some other states. You can DIY and the papers yourself. Self-help packets are available online and at the county clerk’s office. They guide you through the legal process so that you can file the appropriate forms.

Online Divorce in Washington 

Online divorce services have been increasing in popularity because they are so easy to use. We do many tasks online, so conducting a divorce virtually seems the next logical step.

An online divorce is an excellent option because it gives you the benefit of knowledgeable professionals to assist you with the marriage dissolution process while not paying for an attorney. You are saving money while gaining the same peace of mind you would get from a legal team.

An online divorce service guarantees that you and your team will complete your paperwork correctly. The online attorney will prepare complex documents and navigate the challenging process for you. This work removes your stress and worries so you can move on with your life.

Washington online divorce is simple. Reputable services provide you with a money-back guarantee that promises court acceptance of your paperwork. There are some stipulations to online divorce in Washington.

How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in Washington

To use an online divorce service, you have to meet the following requirements:

  • You must be eligible for divorce in Washington.  You or your spouse meet the residency requirement and the no-fault ground for dissolution.
  • Your divorce is uncontested. You and your partner agree on each term of the divorce. If either of you contests any matter, the divorce becomes complex and must now be handled through the courts traditionally.
  • Your spouse is willing to sign the divorce papers. When you file your divorce petition online, your ex has to be ready to sign as the respondent in agreement with you. 

Online divorce services make the process fast and easy for couples ready to move forward. If you do not cooperate with your soon-to-be-ex, you should consult with an attorney or file your petition for dissolution through the county office.

Many states have stipulations regarding minor children that indicate that you cannot file them online when a case involves child custody or support.

However, Washington will allow you to file for dissolution online whether or not you have children together, as long as you and your ex-spouse agree on all terms.

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Do You Still Need to Go to Court? 

Luckily, it’s possible to get divorced in Washington without ever entering a courtroom. This rule includes some divorces through online divorce services. 

Whether or not a hearing will be required can depend on several factors, such as how complicated your divorce is. The court will let you know if you must attend a hearing to finalize your dissolution. 

Key Takeaways
Online divorce services allow you to complete and file divorce paperwork conveniently and quickly. In some circumstances, you can get a divorce without going to court. We recommend 3StepDivorce learn more >>

How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in Washington

Each divorce is different, so the individual timelines vary from case to case. Divorce in the state of Washington is final once a commissioner or a  judge signs off on either your settlement agreement or the judge’s order (if it went to trial). At that point, your marriage will be over, and you can move on.

Keep in mind that Washington requires a 90-day waiting period from the day you file your action until your divorce can be legally finalized. However, many factors contribute to how long a divorce will take in Washington.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take? 

In theory, the least amount of time a divorce in Washington could take is 90 days. If a couple submits a joint petition, which is the quickest way to obtain a divorce for qualified individuals, they need the commissioner’s approval after 90 days. This minimal time frame is not likely since it relies on the court responding on the first possible day.

However, even with the family law department being bogged down with cases in a busy county court, you can still obtain a divorce quickly. It all just depends on how fast the commissioner or judge receives your paperwork.

The timeline is similar for uncontested divorces, where one party is the sole petitioner. You still have the 90-day waiting period, but if you and your spouse agree or if your ex does not respond, you can still proceed with your divorce as soon as the commissioner or the judge approves the settlement agreement or the default judgment.

You may be required to attend a hearing to confirm your divorce and settlement. How soon your hearing happens depends on how busy the court schedule is and how fast your hearing gets scheduled.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take? 

How long it takes to finalize a contested divorce can vary more. In the state of Washington, a contested divorce can still end quickly if the two partners attend mediation or communicate and build an agreement about the terms of the divorce. This process will usually require a compromise from one or both individuals. 

If you cannot compromise, you and your ex must go to trial. A judge will decide all the points you and your spouse could not agree about. While every court attempts to schedule hearings quickly, you could wait a long time before a judge hears your case.

Since the contested divorce timelines are so volatile, we gathered the factors that commonly contribute to shorter or longer divorce timelines. These mainly apply to contested dissolutions since they are more complex.

Is the Dissolution Contentious or Amicable?

Dissolutions where the parties cannot get along take longer. Your divorce will go smoother if you are amicable and try to get along with your ex-spouse. Exes who attempt cooperation are more likely to have a faster divorce.

You might disagree on child custody plans or the division of marital property. Disagreements don’t always mean there are bad feelings between you. You might not fight or talk badly about each other, but you may need some help from a professional or a judge on deciding what is fair.

If ill feelings exist or you cannot communicate, it is much harder to work out these situations. The dissolution will take a longer time.

How Complex Is Your Divorce? 

Complicated divorces take longer to finalize. The presence of minor children born in the marriage will complicate the divorce and contribute to a much longer process.

The parenting plan, which includes custody arrangements and visitation, must be agreed upon by the parties. There are also:

  • Child support matters 
  • Health insurance
  • Other related expenses 

These issues can cause a pair who used to love each other to become foes quickly. It is easy to feel under attack when someone wants custody of your child. Child support is also seen as an insult if one party takes it personally.

These problems increase the time it takes to finalize your divorce. A more prolonged divorce also equals more billable hours if you have a lawyer. Because of this, you should try to agree as much as possible. We know the agreement is not always possible.

How Many Assets Do You Share? 

A divorce will take longer if you and your spouse have a lot of property or debt in common.

Couples with many assets experience longer waits since they have to negotiate with each other on marital property division. Otherwise, they must wait for a hearing so a judge can decide how to split the property.

It’s challenging and takes some time to untangle:

  • Finances
  • Property
  • Investments 
  • Debts
  • Businesses

You might need a professional’s help to agree on a fair and equitable distribution, which will drag the divorce out longer.

Key Takeaways
Many factors contribute to the length of the Washington dissolution timeline. Whether you and your spouse file jointly for dissolution or have either a contested or uncontested divorce affects how long it will take. Marital assets, minor children, and other issues can make the process longer.

Divorce Costs in Washington

Just like every other aspect of divorce, the costs can vary wildly. The average Washington divorce costs between $10,500 and $12,000. 

We have to account for specific circumstances when attempting to estimate the costs of a particular case. For example, a simple dissolution where you and your spouse filed jointly will cost less than a contested divorce involving lawyers and complicated issues.

When we talk about the cost of divorce, we must discuss the variables. We will touch on specific expenses in detail, but the major factors that add to the divorce costs are:

  • Contested vs. Uncontested: Uncontested divorces are cheaper. It takes much more time and money to resolve a contested dissolution.
  • Attorney or No Attorney: This choice is one of the most critical elements determining divorce costs. If you get a lawyer, you raise your final costs by potentially thousands of dollars.
  • How Complex Your Divorce Is: More issues to work out means more hearings, mediation sessions, and hours that your attorney charges you for, so you will pay more for the overall process.
  • Children: When kids are involved, divorce is more complicated, and costs increase. In some cases, you must pay for a custody evaluator or guardian ad litem or other paid third party.

Other elements influence the divorce process, like the division of assets, debts, spousal support, and more. We will review the costs of divorce with as much accuracy as possible.

Court Fees

The fees for filing a petition for dissolution vary by county. In most counties, it costs $284. You may file a form to waive the filing fees if you cannot afford to pay them. You will have to prove why you cannot pay. 

Attorney Fees

Attorneys charge a few different fees:

  • Retainer: The retainer is the starting fee that an attorney requests when you hire them. It is usually between $2,000 and $5,000 and varies based on how complex your case seems and what costs the lawyer estimates your situation will incur.
  • Hourly Rate:  Attorneys may charge between $100 and $300 an hour. The hourly fee is charged against the retainer fee. Once your retainer is depleted, or close to it, your lawyer may request more funds or bill you for additional charges.
  • Incidental Costs: Lawyers sometimes charge for supplies, administrative fees, and any other expenses that come up in your case that are outside of the scope of their hourly rate.

Some resources may point you towards low-cost attorneys or initial consultations so that your costs remain low.

Litigation Costs

Litigation costs refer to the total cost of legal services that your case incurs. Washington doesn't have any notably high or significant costs that we already cover here. However, sometimes you have to pay out of pocket for third parties.

These could be custody evaluators or guardian ad litems in custody cases or professionals like accountants for property division battles.

Mediation (Reduce Costs)

Washington state requires mediation if you have minor children. You and your ex are both required to pay half of the fee for the mediator. 

The mediator will be an attorney or another trained specialist who can monitor and lead a conversation between you and your former partner so that you can agree.

Mediation could cost $1,000 to $3,000. It will save you money on further litigation costs if you and your spouse agree.

Online Divorce Service 

Online divorce services charge a fee between $99 and $300. This price ensures the ease of mind you get from trained professionals assisting you with your divorce. The cost to use an online divorce service does not replace the court fees and filing fees from your local office.

Key Takeaways
Divorce costs are continuously variable. You have to think about each factor and detail of your particular case to determine the final price.
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Custody Considerations in Washington

When two parents cannot agree, child custody will be contested. In this case, the judge will have to decide where the child will live.

The judge might request the help of a guardian ad Litem (an advocate who is appointed to represent the child’s best interest). The judge must decide what custody arrangement would benefit the child the most.

Washington does not refer to custody and visitation anymore. Child custody guidelines refer to:

  • Parenting plans 
  • Residential schedules
  • Decision-making authority 

The parenting plan is the document that contains all of the information about how you and your ex will parent and what the child’s schedule will be. 

Decision-making authority is similar to legal custody. A parent with decision-making authority will have the rights and responsibilities of making decisions about the child’s health, education, religion, and more. 

The residential schedule outlines where the child will live and how much time they will spend at the other parent's home. Washington often grants equal parenting time to both parents.

Factors that Influence Custody Terms (Residential Schedules)

Here are a few factors that influence custody terms.

  • The relative strength of the child’s relationship with each parent: The court will consider the bond between parent and child, along with any significant elements of their history.
  • The parents’ agreements, if you entered them knowingly and voluntarily: Any current or previous valid agreements will be used in the decision.
  • Each parent’s past/future potential: This takes into count the parent’s potential for taking care of the children, including if one of you has taken more daily responsibility: A judge will recognize if one parent is and has been the child’s primary caregiver. 

The judge will also consider: 

  • The child’s emotional needs and developmental level
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults and involvement with school/activities/community 
  • Your wishes.
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is over 13 
  • Each parent’s work schedule 

The Washington family courts do not give much consideration to how much money each parent earns, whether or not one or both parents are remarrying, or what the temporary parenting plan says. 

Read More: Understanding The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children

Key Takeaways
Multiple factors affect custody decisions. The most vital one is determining the best interest of the child. Custody battles can be brutal and will delay your divorce, but the main focus should always be on what is best for your minor child(ren).

Child Support Considerations in Washington 

Child support is a payment that one parent, usually noncustodial, makes to the custodial parent. 

The purpose of child support payments is to provide financial relief to the custodial or residential parent. Especially in cases where there is a large income gap between the two parents, child support helps make sure that the child(ren) enjoys a similar quality of life at both parents’ houses. 

In Washington, child support is determined using the Washington State Support Schedule. The court adds together the income of both parents and uses the table to find the ages and number of applicable children. The table will list the fundamental support obligation that corresponds with these factors and your combined income. 

The court will look at several facts to determine the amount of child support the noncustodial parent must pay. If they cannot afford the primary support obligation, it will be adjusted based on:

  • Parenting time/Residential schedules: If both parents have equal or 50/50 residential time with the child, the court will usually order the higher-earning spouse to pay child support. The judge will deviate from the standard obligation based on income and affordability.
  • Other children: When the noncustodial parent also has a legal obligation to pay child support for other biological children who may not be part of the action, a “transfer credit” lowers the parent’s support obligation.
  • Less visitation: When a noncustodial parent receives less than the standard visitation or has no residential time, the judge may order a more significant amount of support to compensate. 

Alimony Considerations in Washington 

Alimony in the State of Washington is discussed in Section 26.09.090 of the RCW. Alimony, or spousal support, can be temporary or long-term. Spousal support aims to put the partners on an even financial footing. 

Regardless of the income or earning power of either spouse, they were equal financial partners during the marriage and should be considered as such after its dissolution. This law is especially true for couples who have been married for 25 years or longer. In these cases, spousal support payments may continue permanently.

When it comes to marriages that lasted between 5 and 25 years, the court will award spousal maintenance payments in situations where it is needed. The payments will be awarded for a length of time that the judge determines is fair. 

In shorter marriages, the court may award temporary spousal support while the two are finalizing the divorce, but usually, payments will not extend past the final settlement.

The judge will decide the amount and length of the maintenance. The judge will not consider any misdeeds by either party but will look at the following relevant factors:

  • The financial resources of the receiving party and their ability to independently support their own needs
  • How long it may take the receiving party to acquire adequate education or training to find employment appropriate to their skill, interests, lifestyle, and other circumstances
  • The standard of living established by the couple during the marriage
  • The length of the marriage
  • The receiving spouse’s age, physical and emotional health, and financial obligations
  • The ability of the paying spouse to meet their personal needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the receiving spouse

The judge will determine the timeline for temporary alimony, but it usually depends on the length of the marriage. The judge may use the old standard that awards one year of alimony for marriage every three or four years. 

You can end spousal support if the receiving partner remarries or cohabits with another individual. Unpaid spousal support accrues arrears just like child support. The court can garnish the payer’s income, and they might be found in contempt of court. 

Key Takeaways
Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, is designed to support the lower-income spouse and ensure that their standard of living is consistent following the dissolution of their marriage. The amount and duration are both decided by a judge.

Division of Assets 

You and your former spouse might have property or debt to divide. 

According to the RCW, you should distribute all property between the parties equitably. “Equitably” does not mean 50/50 or evenly. It means that the judge will split all assets as reasonably as possible. 

To do so, the judge must consider the following relevant factors:

  • The nature and extent of the community property: Community property is any property that belongs to both spouses.
  • The nature and extent of the separate property: Separate property belongs to just one party. Just because a property is separately owned does not mean a judge will not deem it marital property and subject to distribution.
  • The length of the marriage: The judge will consider how long the pair were married when determining each partner’s stake in their total financial assets.
  • The economic situation of each spouse: This includes how desirable it is to award the family home or the right to live in it to the spouse with whom the children reside.
  • Any other factor or information the judge seems relevant to finding a just and equitable split of assets. 

Any asset or property can be subject to division in a divorce. 

Real Estate

Real property, including land and houses, that the couple obtained during their marriage should be divided, no matter whose name is on the deed. 

If the real estate includes the family home, the judge may look at the parenting plan in place for the couple. 

Since the court aims to minimize disruption to the lives of any minor children, it isn’t likely the kids will be displaced from their house. Therefore, the judge might grant the home to the custodial parent or the parent who has the most residential time with the children. 

401k, IRA, Investments

Investment accounts and retirement accounts can confuse a divorce proceeding. Typically, these accounts are owned solely by one contributor. 

However, because investments are community property, you or your spouse may be required to split the contents of a retirement account or repay a certain amount of the contributions or interest. 


Dissolutions can be complicated when one or both partners own a business. 

The court must determine:

  • Whether the court will award ownership of the business to one spouse 
  • Whether the two must share joint ownership 
  • If the company has to liquidate and divide the value 
  • If one partner must buy out the interest of the other 

A judge will consider each partner’s role and contribution to the business. Either partner can contribute to the day-to-day operations or the company’s financial well-being.

Other Assets

The court may have to split any other property (vehicles, bank accounts, etc.) that the ex-spouses gained while married. A judge might also determine who is responsible for each debt incurred while the two were married. 

Key Takeaways
Washington is an equitable distribution state, meaning the property is divided fairly between spouses. The judge will look at various factors to decide how to split assets.

Common-Law Marriage Considerations in Washington 

Common-law marriage refers to relationships that resemble typical marriages but are not official. Few states still have a process to recognize these unions. The ones that do typically will give these couples all of the rights and responsibilities of a married couple, including tax and other financial benefits. 

For the state to recognize their common-law marriage, the couple usually has to cohabitate and desire to be seen as a married couple. They will have to present themselves as spouses to other people.

Washington does not allow common-law marriages. It does not matter how long you live with your partner or whether you believe yourselves to be married or not. If you are not officially married, Washington will not consider you as such.

Although Washington does not recognize common-law marriages, the state will realize common-law marriages from other states so long as that state recognizes the union as binding and valid.

Key Takeaways
Common-law marriage is an alternative to legal marriage. However, Washington State does not acknowledge this type of relationship.

Alternatives to Divorce in Washington

If you think you want to get a divorce but are not sure if it’s the right choice, you can attempt one or more of these alternatives to getting a divorce. 

You can choose legal separation over divorce. If you are granted a separation, you and your spouse may still reconcile, or you can spend your time apart working out the details of your impending dissolution.

Washington offers a legal process for separation. All of the steps are very similar to those of a divorce. You can still request relief, support, restraining orders, and other actions that you would include in a divorce action.


An annulment is when you ask the government to erase the fact that your marriage ever occurred. Washington refers to annulments as “Declarations of Invalidity.”

While there is only one recognized ground for dissolution, there are seven legal grounds for invalidation in Washington:

  • Underage: One or both of you were too young to become married in Washington.
  • Bigamy: One of you is already married to another living person.
  • Incest: You and your spouse are closely related.
  • Incompetence: You or your partner could not consent to the marriage because of insanity, intoxication, or incapacitation.
  • Duress: Someone coerced one of you into the union.
  • Fraud: You were lied to about something essential to the marriage.
  • Force: You or your spouse consented to the marriage under threats of harm.

If your marriage is declared invalidated by the government of Washington, it will be as if you were never married.

Work It Out Together

The two of you may work through your marital difficulties. The benefits to working it out together are:

  • Financial and tax benefits of marriage
  • Retaining a relationship with someone you love
  • Honoring your marriage vows
  • Divorce costs money
  • You do not have to deal with custody, visitation, or child support
  • Pride in you and your partner for fixing a bad situation

Seek Counseling

If you try to work out your marriage, you should probably seek counseling. Select a professional who excels in couples counseling and will assist you with your marital problems.

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Open Marriage

An open marriage involves non-monogamy. You and your spouse may have other sexual or romantic partners. An open marriage is a challenging type of relationship because it can cause jealousy, more fighting, and extreme tension. It can also save some marriages by allowing the parties to explore their needs with others. 

Read More: Dating During a Divorce

Parenting Marriage

A parenting marriage is when you stay together until your kids are old enough that the divorce will not harm them. You will be “staying together for the kids.” You can combine a parenting marriage with a separation, an open marriage, or even counseling and work it out. 

Key Takeaways
You can pursue a few different avenues before divorcing. Lots of people would prefer working out their struggles and remaining married. If you do not reconcile your differences, divorce could be your best option. There is no shame in moving on if it’s best for you.