At the end of a marriage, it is natural to find a reason to be angry with your spouse. The marriage ended, which means that someone had to be to blame, right? Not always. Many marriages fail simply because two people were incompatible from the beginning and both spouses leave quietly. For couples who have remained amicable during the early stages of a divorce, filing for an uncontested divorce may be the right move forward.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Washington uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Washington Defined
The Washington state legislature decided that because divorce lawsuits used to always be confusing and lengthy, an easier path for divorce should exist. Therefore, under Washington state law, a couple can seek an uncontested divorce either by filing for divorce jointly or by not denying that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
A Washington state uncontested divorce is essentially an expedited divorce process. Where couples agree on the terms of their divorce, Washington law makes it easy to finalize the terms of a divorce. An uncontested divorce is usually accompanied by a legally-binding separation contract that determines divorce-related issues such as alimony, distribution of property, and child custody.
Requirements for Seeking a Washington Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Washington, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Washington divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first requirement is the Washington state residency requirement. To file for divorce, either you or your spouse must live within the state of Washington on the day you file for divorce. You do not need to have resided in the state for any length of time, and you do not need to intend to remain living in the state.
Second, you will need to prove the grounds for divorce. Unlike other states that differentiate between at-fault and no-fault divorce grounds, Washington state is strictly a no-fault divorce state. To prove that you and your spouse are eligible for a divorce, you simply need to agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Finally, you and your spouse should agree on the terms of a divorce. In some very simply divorce arrangements where you and your spouse do not have children or substantial property to divide, filing jointly for an uncontested divorce will be enough. However, in most cases, you and your spouse will want to execute a separation contract, specifying the terms for your divorce. A judge will need to rule on any issues not resolved by the separation contract, which will result in your divorce being labelled as “contested,” rather than uncontested.
On Separation Contracts
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A separation agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed separation agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any separation agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
A fully complete separation contract should resolve all of the following issues in the divorce:
- Division of marital assets and debt;
- Awards of spousal maintenance (alimony);
- Custody and visitation scheduling for children born of the marriage;
- The formation of a parenting plan;
- An agreement on whether the parent with custody is allowed to relocate to other state; and
- An agreement on the amount of child support in accordance with Washington state child support guidelines.
In general, Washington state judges will simply approve a completed separation contract and finalize the divorce. But where the contract is one-sided or the terms of the contract do not comply with the state child support guidelines, the court may request additional evidence and a hearing before approving the contract.
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Washington
Once you have determined which court is the proper court for filing, the general flow of the process is follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- Discuss the terms of your divorce with your spouse and agree on all of the important issues discussed above. In the event that you are not able to agree on every aspect of the divorce, court-appointed mediators are available.1
- Decide whether to jointly file for divorce or have one spouse make a separate filing, and then complete all of the required divorce forms. For convenience, all of the required forms are available on the Washington Courts website.2
- Determine which court is the appropriate court to file your divorce. Each Washington county has a Superior Court with a family law division. You should file for divorce with the superior court in the county in which either you or your spouse resides.
- Once you have filed for divorce, if you did not file jointly, you must serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork.
- After filing for divorce, you and your spouse will be required to wait at least 90 days before the divorce is finalized. During this time, spouses with children may be required to take a divorce education course designed to assist parents in helping their children adjust to the divorce.
- At the conclusion of the waiting period, the judge will sign off on your decree of dissolution, officially granting a divorce.
If you would like any additional information on divorce in Washington state generally, you should consult the Washington state courts’ family law handbook. The handbook is available online for free at the Washington State Courts website.3
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- See Rev. Code Wash. (ACRW) § 26.09.015.