In the US, between 40% and 50% of marriages end in divorce.

The divorce rate has been declining since the 1980s but it’s still a possibility for many couples who can’t make their marriage work. But the process of divorce can be long, expensive, and messy.

If you’re thinking of filing for divorce in Washington state, you should know what’s involved. Knowing in advance what comes after you complete your divorce forms can help you better prepare for the entire process.

Divorce is never easy. But with a little foreknowledge, you can mentally and emotionally prepare for what lays ahead. Keep reading to learn more about this process.

Speak to a Lawyer

The first thing you should do if you’re thinking of filing for divorce is to seek legal counsel. Be open and honest with your attorney in describing the circumstances. Being completely transparent will help your attorney advise you on your options and the best way to proceed.

Speaking with a lawyer is also crucial if you’ve received a divorce summons. You need to know how to respond to the petition and how to protect your rights moving forward. These include your rights around children, assets, and property.

A divorce lawyer can explain to you what your options are. They’ll review the summons with you and explain what everything means. They can then advise you on the best way to proceed specific to your situation.

Completing Divorce Forms

The actual legal process involved in divorce won’t begin until you complete a petition for a dissolution of marriage form. In most cases, one spouse files for divorce against another. 

The spouse who files for the dissolution of marriage is the petitioner. The spouse on the receiving end of the divorce papers is the respondent.

Filing Divorce Forms

The next step for divorce in Washington state is to file the divorce papers. These papers aren’t filed in the county where you got married. Instead, you’ll have to file them in the county where you currently live.

Once you’ve filed your petition for the dissolution of marriage with the court clerk, your divorce case begins. In some counties of Washington state, filing your petition means that any disposal of marital assets is restrained. Meaning, neither the respondent or the petitioner may dispose of assets held in common.

Serving the Divorce Papers

Your spouse will have to be served with the divorce papers following your filing with the courts. Be aware that there are restrictions on who can serve the respondent with the papers. You should arrange for them to receive the papers as soon as possible following the filing.

In most cases, a respondent has 20 days to respond to the petition for dissolution of marriage. They’re given this time to review the petition, hire an attorney, and gather paperwork and records.

Uncontested Divorce vs Contested Divorce in Washington State

From here, the process can go one of two ways. This depends on whether your spouse contests the divorce or not. 

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce refers to one in which the two parties involved can reach a decision over certain matters without having to go to trial. Typically, this involves settling matters regarding:

  1. Division of community and/or marital property
  2. Division of debt
  3. Custody of any children
  4. Payment of child and/or spousal support

If these matters are uncontested or can be agreed upon, the divorce moves more quickly and usually costs less.

Contested Divorce

If your spouse wishes to contest the divorce, they have the legal right to do so. In most cases, lawyers get involved at this point and the discovery phase begins.

In this phase, lawyers will try to gather as much information as possible. This can mean subpoenas for your financial records and interviews with friends, family, children, and co-workers. Your lawyers will likely take similar steps with your spouse in building their case.

After gathering information to support a case, you and your spouse may choose to work with a mediator or an arbitrator. This is an opportunity to resolve your issues before going to trial.

If no settlement can be reached, you’ll then need to take the divorce before a judge. A divorce trial can take up to one year to schedule.

Finalizing the Divorce

This is the final stage of the divorce process. It involves signing and filing the final documents of the divorce.

In the case that your divorce was uncontested or at least resolved before going to trial, then that settlement document should be presented to the Ex Parte Department commissioners. They’ll have to approve your documents before the divorce is considered finalized.

If your divorce was contested and you weren’t able to reach a settlement before trial, then the divorce is finalized in a different manner. After presenting your case to a judge, they’ll make the decision on the final orders and finalize your divorce.

Keep in mind that, either way, it takes at least three months for a divorce to be finalized. 

Going Through a Divorce?

The basic steps of a divorce in Washington state involve completing the petition for dissolution of marriage form, filing that form, and serving the petition to your spouse. After completing those steps, how you move forward will depend on whether your divorce is contested or uncontested.

If your divorce is uncontested, that means you’re able to settle the most important aspects of divorce outside of court. But in the case that your spouse decides to contest your divorce, there’s a lot of legal work involved. And when you and your spouse can’t agree without going to trial, you should know your rights and how to best protect them. 

We have the experience to help with that. Contact us today for your consultation.