Divorcing a non-resident of Washington state

What if the spouse whom you wish to divorce lives in a foreign country?   Can you still obtain a divorce here in Washington?

If the person seeking the divorce is domiciled in Washington state, Washington courts will have jurisdiction (legal authority) to enter a dissolution decree (divorce) if the other party can be served by a method authorized by Washington’s court rules and statutes.  Specifically, the court has jurisdiction over the marriage and may dissolve it even if the non-resident spouse has never been to Washington state.  However, the court would need to obtain personal jurisdiction over the non-resident spouse to order child support or make a property division.  If the non-resident spouse has never physically been to Washington state, never conducted business in Washington state, or has no other “sufficient” contacts in Washington state, the courts here may not exercise personal jurisdiction over the non-resident spouse. This means that the domiciled spouse seeking the divorce cannot obtain support or a property award against the non-resident spouse.  Of course, if the non-resident spouse has agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of Washington state, then the domiciled spouse could seek support or a property award.

In regard to establishing a custody decree or parenting plan, whether a Washington court can address such issues will depend upon a number of factors.  If the child has always lived in Washington state, and no other state or foreign country has made a custody order about the child, then Washington would have the ability to make a custody determination.  In other situations such as where a child was born in a foreign country, it is essential to determine whether the laws of that foreign country or international conventions  were observed, among other factors.

The civil rules allows for service in a foreign country in a manner prescribed by the laws of that country.  There exists an international treaty called the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters.  These procedures can be very complex, costly and time consuming.

If you find yourself in such a situation, please speak with an experienced attorney to evaluate the facts of your particular situation and make recommendations tailored to your situation.