January 21st, 2023

How to Begin the Divorce Process in the State of Washington


While all relationships experience their ups and downs, some reach a point where separation may offer the best path forward. Whether you have been married for under a year or your union has spanned decades, the prospect of divorce can seem daunting and overwhelming. Fortunately, you do not have to go through this challenging experience alone. Leaning on your family and friends can provide you with the emotional support you crave while enlisting the assistance of a skilled and compassionate divorce attorney can give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to begin anew. Just as every marital relationship is different, the divorce process can vary from couple to couple. However, most divorces in Washington state share similar steps and decisions; let’s take a look at how to initiate a divorce proceeding and what you can expect from this process in the upcoming months.

Understanding No-Fault Divorce in Washington

Washington is considered a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning either spouse may file for divorce at any time. The state does not require you to cite a specific reason for seeking a divorce. For instance, you do not need to prove that your spouse was responsible for your failed marriage; instead, you can state that you are making the decision to separate because of irreconcilable differences. The court will not ask you to list or explain the underlying reasons for your separation.

How the Divorce Process Typically Begins

The spouse pursuing a divorce can initiate the process by signing and dating a summons and petition. If your spouse is not in agreement with you about the divorce, they will need to be served personally by a neutral party over the age of 18. This means that you cannot serve your spouse—you will need to have a friend or process service agency representative fulfill this role instead. Once your spouse has been served, you must observe a mandatory waiting period of at least 91 days. This mandatory waiting period applies even if you and your spouse are pursuing a joint petition for divorce. However, some couples wishing to avoid the 91-day minimum delay can file a legal separation petition instead. This expedites the separation process, as you can negotiate matters like property and debt division, child custody, and parenting plans. Later on, you can request the court to convert the legal separation into a dissolution of marriage (divorce).

Preparing for Divorce Mediation in King County

Couples who file jointly for divorce and agree to its terms may simply file the petition, observe the mandatory waiting period, and obtain the court’s decree. However, many couples do not see eye to eye on a few (or all) aspects of the divorce. Washington state requires divorcing couples to participate in mediation before the matter goes to trial. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) wherein the parties negotiate and work collaboratively to establish the terms of their divorce. Unlike a judge, the mediator functions as a neutral third party who facilitates open, honest, and productive communication between the spouses. Mediation is always more cost-effective, faster, and more confidential than taking the matter to litigation. Many divorcing couples are able to work through their disagreements and arrive at a divorce agreement that works for them both. However, mediation does not work for every divorcing couple. If you and your spouse cannot resolve your differences through mediation, you may proceed to litigate the matter in court.

Obtaining a Divorce Through Litigation

In cases where a divorce cannot be settled through mediation, you may need to take the matter to court. Litigation can be stressful, time-consuming, and draining (both emotionally and financially), so it’s important to prepare yourself for the difficult months ahead. Enlisting the trusted support of a compassionate divorce attorney is critical to ensuring you feel empowered and informed at every step of the process. You can rest easier knowing that your attorney will defend your best interests and advocate passionately for your post-divorce future. In Washington, taking a divorce to trial is nearly always a last resort, as many separations and other family law matters settle well before the situation requires litigation.

Laying the Groundwork for a Bright and Stable Future

Untangling your life from that of your spouse is rarely simple or straightforward. As you explore your divorce options in Washington, take some time to explore at least a couple of attorneys to find someone who supports your needs. Divorce is a highly personal matter, so make sure you find a caring and compassionate lawyer who takes the time to understand your goals and concerns. Together, you can assess your divorce options and pursue the most strategic path forward to help you realize your goals.

 

Reach out to the Hemmat Law Group by calling (206) 682-5200 to speak with an experienced and compassionate Seattle divorce attorney.

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John Socha is Hemmat Law's firm’s Legal Operations Director. He graduated from the University of Washington and has led HLG's administration since 2019.