Though attorneys can be helpful when it's time to end your marriage, you can file your own divorce papers in Washington State. Completing the process yourself can help you save money and time, particularly if your divorce is not complex. You can obtain many of the necessary forms from your local court, or you can use an online legal document service to prepare and file your paperwork.
Grounds and Waiting Period
Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that the only legal ground for divorce is the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage, which simply put is that you and your spouse cannot get along with each other anymore. Though your burden of proof is low, dissolution is not necessarily a quick process. Even if you file all the proper paperwork and the court’s workload is light, Washington State law requires a waiting period of at least 90 days before the court will finalize a dissolution. This waiting period does not begin until you file your initial dissolution paperwork.
Petition for Dissolution
The dissolution process begins when you file a petition with a local court. On the petition form, available from the court, you must provide basic information about your marriage, including the date and place you were married, the names of any children, and the date you separated. Although dissolving your marriage is the main purpose of the dissolution process, the court can issue other related orders. These typically address property distribution and arrangements for child custody. You can request the terms you desire for these orders, such as how you want joint property distributed, in your petition -- and the court can take those requests into consideration.
Filing and Service
You must file your petition along with a filing fee and other forms, including a summons, identification information form, a certificate of dissolution from the Department of Health and, depending on your local court, case indexing or designation forms. These forms are primarily for administrative purposes and you can obtain them from your local court. The summons tells your spouse how long he has to respond to your petition, so you must arrange to serve a copy of the summons and a copy of the petition on your spouse soon after you file them. Typically, a process server or sheriff will serve your spouse by handing him the papers in person.
Finalizing Your Divorce
If your spouse does not respond to the paperwork you serve on him, you can get a default divorce after the deadlines pass, meaning the court can grant your divorce based on your filings and without your spouse’s input. If your spouse files a response that disputes items in your petition, the court may have to schedule a hearing on the issues. At the hearing, the judge receives evidence from both sides to help him issue a decision. No matter how your spouse responds, your divorce is not final until you appear before the judge to state, under oath, that your marriage is irretrievably broken and answer questions the judge may have. The judge finalizes the divorce by signing a dissolution decree and any related documents such as findings of fact and conclusions of law, a child support or spousal support order, and a parenting plan.