What is “No Fault” Divorce? 

Washington is a so-called “no fault” divorce state.  RCW 26.09.030.   The term “no fault” means that the divorce court no longer needs to determine which spouse is to “blame” for the impending divorce and is actually even prohibited from making financial decisions based on marital “fault”.  RCW 26.09.030 and RCW 26.09.080 and RCW 26.09.090.  Accordingly, couples divorcing in Washington are freed from having to prove “fault” of the other spouse and their own lack of “fault”, expediting and allowing a more dignified divorce proceeding.

Another consequence of “no fault” divorce is that a marriage must be ended by the court not only when both spouses wish it, but also when only one spouse considers the marriage “irretrievably broken”.  The underlying legal principle is that as a voluntary union, marriage requires mutual consent to continue.

Can Washington state divorce us even if we were married somewhere else?

The place of your marriage, even if it your marriage was formalized in another country, does not matter.  RCW 26.09.030.   Also, Washington courts have power to legally divorce a Washington state resident even if the other spouse is not a Washington resident.

How can I end my marriage?

There are only three ways a person can become divorced in this state: by agreement, by “default” or by trial.  It is not possible to divorce without some court involvement, since only a divorce (dissolution) decree terminates a marriage.  Dissolution decrees must be signed by a judicial officer.

To dissolve any marriage in this state, several decisions are required (RCW 26.09.050):  how to divide the property RCW 26.09.080 whether “spousal maintenance” (alimony) should be ordered, and if so, how much and for how long and on what conditions (RCW 26.09.080), how to arrange the residential schedule of the children between the parents (RCW 26.09.002 and 26.09.191 and 26.09.187) and providing for child support by both parents (RCW 26.09.100 et seq and RCW 26.19) being the primary issues.

If the spouses agree on how to settle each relevant issue above, they can dissolve their marriage by stating their agreements in a written dissolution “decree” and related documents they then submit to the court.  When the documents are signed by a judicial officer, the divorce is final.  The court will approve spousal maintenance and property division agreements of divorcing spouses if the agreement appears “fair and equitable” at the time it was entered into. RCW 26.09.070.   It will approve child support orders only if they are consistent with the child support guidelines and standards established by the Washington.  (RCW 26.09.050 and RCW 26.19).  As to the custody of children, the court will approve parental agreements on how the children’s residential time is to be allocated and parental decision-making powers will be shared, if the court determines that the proposed “parenting plan” is in the children’s best interest. RCW 26.09.001.

If the spouses are not able to reach agreement on all issues, a dissolution trial must be conducted to resolve each non-agreed issue.

If the other spouse simply does not respond to dissolution papers served on him or her, the spouse who initiated the divorce can obtain a “default” divorce decree on the presumption that the non-responsive spouse consents to the divorce on the terms stated in the dissolution papers.

How do I initiate a divorce (“dissolution”) proceeding in this state?

Dissolution proceedings are initiated by service, on the other spouse, and filing of a summons and petition with the court clerk.  These documents must be prepared using mandatory pattern family law forms regardless of whether the party is represented by an attorney.  Patterns forms are available free of charge from Washington state’s website.  See also the “forms” tab above.

How long does it take to get divorced?

Washington requires a minimum of 90 days between the day the dissolution proceeding is commenced by service and filing of the summons and petition and the day the final decree is signed by the court, ending the marriage. However, even after 90 days (unless the responding spouse is in default) final decree of dissolution will not be entered until all issues are resolved by written agreement or trial.  Currently, in King Co. trials are scheduled the day a petition for dissolution is filed, and the assigned trial date is approximately a year later.

What if urgent financial or child custody issues cannot wait for trial?

Once either spouse files a petition  for dissolution, the court has power at the written request of either spouse, to establish responsibilities and rights of the spouses pending final, by “motion” hearing.  Motions can be made for a broad spectrum of issues requiring immediate relief, such as  which spouse will have temporary possession of the marital residence, the children’s residential schedule, family support, management of an ongoing business owned by the spouses, restraining orders, etc.  Such hearings are conducted 14 days after the other spouse receives written notice of what relief is being requested and has an opportunity to respond. Court orders issued at such hearings remain in place until the divorce is finalized or the court earlier modifies the “temporary” order for good cause.