You are your partner have decided to split. You’ve thought this through, perhaps gone to couples therapy, and maybe you are even past legal separation (which is not a prerequisite to divorce but it can be an alternative, and it can be done by court order). At this point divorce is a certainty.
In that case, you need to know what steps to take to get a divorce here in Washington. When navigating this significant stage of your life, consider consulting with a lawyer before proceeding.
Step 1 – Is this an uncontested or contested divorce? An uncontested divorce is basically one where the parties are not fighting over any of the main issues: division of assets/debts, child custody, child/spousal support. Over 40% of all divorces in Washington are uncontested and this option is far easier because you do not have to go to court and argue. Even though you are not fighting, you still have to follow all the court rules and procedures and hiring an attorney will help you keep it easy.
Step 2 – If you and your spouse cannot agree on money, kids or residential matters; you are not in an uncontested divorce. Washington is a “no-fault” divorce state. All that is required is that one party declares the marriage to be “irretrievably broken” – that is, it cannot be spared and that there will be no reconciliation. When you complete the Petition, you indicate where you disagree with your spouse and ask the court to make a decision if you still cannot agree by the time for trial. Washington has mandatory forms and each word has a significance that an attorney can explain to you.
Step 3 – After you have the documents ready, you have to file for divorce in court. This is usually in the county where you or your spouse reside. Although, if you do not want everyone to know the details of your divorce in the county where you live, you and your spouse can agree to file in a different county. If you haven’t done so yet, you should hire an attorney. Now that your case is started, you have placed the fate of your assets in the hands of the state judiciary. You must follow all the rules of court, including procedures that most people do not deal with. The more you have in terms of money and children, the more you have to lose if you make a mistake. The next several months will determine how you live for the next several years.
Step 4 – Even with an attorney your goal is to try reaching an amicable settlement, rather than litigating in court. If there are children from this marriage you will have to deal with your spouse for a very long time presumably. You want your interactions to be as pleasant as possible. You want your children happy. To that end, courts and the law encourage alternative dispute resolution, like mediation where a neutral third party assists in resolving the contested issues. If you can reach an agreement without trial, the court will usually honor that agreement and allow you to finalize your divorce. A skilled attorney will work with you to help reach an agreement with your spouse.
Step 5 – If you cannot reach an agreement and you’ve tried mediation, you are headed for trial. Trial can be the most stressful and challenging thing you will ever do. Considering a trial is your last chance to get the resolution you want, it can also be one of the most important. Not only do you have to present all the information that the judge needs to make a decision, you have to follow all the rules that govern the court. If you make a mistake, you may be prevented from providing that piece of information that could have made the difference. An attorney can take that worry and concern from you, because he or she has been educated and trained in the rules and procedures of court and knows exactly the information that the judge needs to give a good ruling.
The attorneys at Pacific Northwest Family Law can help you through all stages of divorce, whether it is contested or not. Schedule an appointment now by calling 509-572-3700.