The Divorce Process in Washington State
I feel like I’m drowning in information. I want an overview. How exactly does this system work?
The first thing you’ll need to think about is the kind of divorce you expect you’ll have. Is your divorce going to be amicable? Contested? Cooperative? Collaborative? Obviously, it’s not entirely up to you; you may want an amicable divorce, but your partner may be impossible to negotiate with, so you expect a high conflict mess. However, the legal procedure is basically the same in every divorce. You need to understand that there are extremely specific court rules that you or your lawyer must follow. Beware. If the rules are not followed, your position could be severely compromised.
The first order of business is to determine what county you need to file in. Generally, you file in the county where you live. If you live in Seattle or Bellevue, for example, you’ll file for a divorce in King County. Your lawyer can help you figure out if there is another alternative. All of the papers you file in court are called “pleadings.” Washington has mandatory forms that must be used as pleadings in all divorce cases.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
In Washington state, the divorce process is initiated by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. In most counties, the petition must be filed with other mandatory documents, with which your attorney will be quite familiar. When the petition is filed, you will receive a cause number for your case. In some jurisdictions, when you file, you will receive a case schedule setting forth all deadlines for your case. Some jurisdictions enter financial restraining orders at the time of filing. It is important that you carefully read and understand all of the court documents you receive from the court. Ask your lawyer to explain all of these documents to you. The court will hold you responsible for following all requirements imposed on you, so take this very seriously.
Service of Process
The petition must be properly served on the opposing party, and the court must be made aware of this. Your lawyer will make sure service is accomplished and that the proper confirmatory pleadings are filed in court. If proper service does not take place, the court may throw your case out.
Response to Petition for Dissolution
The opposing party must file a Response to the Petition. There are time periods during which this must be accomplished. The response must be properly served on the opposing party. Once these documents have been filed with the court and served on the opposing party, the court is said to have jurisdiction over your case.
When a court has jurisdiction, it has the power to enter all kinds of orders that must be followed by the parties. For example, if the parties are unable to agree on who should live in the family home, who should pay which bills, or where the children will live, either party may file a motion in court and ask the court to make a ruling.
If the parties cannot agree on how to handle their financial and/or child custody issues during the time period between filing for divorce and the final divorce decree, they can file a motion with the court asking it to enter Temporary Orders. The reason these are called temporary orders is that they only last until the final settlement or trial. Every county has very specific rules about how to file motions. If the rules are not followed, the court will typically disregard your motion or your evidence and make you file it again. Temporary Orders are typically entered after the court hears oral arguments from both sides at a court hearing.
“Discovery” is the legal term for how both sides in a legal dispute work to gather all the facts. Often one spouse does not have a clear picture of the couple’s finances, or a spouse wants to know the opposing party’s ideas about a parenting plan. Maybe they don’t know the bank the other person uses, or they don’t know what credit cards they have. When this happens, either party can start the legal discovery process. This process can not be initiated until the court has jurisdiction. And again, you must follow all applicable court rules.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
This is the catch-all term for mediation, arbitration or settlement conferences. The idea here is to give the parties a chance to settle out of court. This process should not begin until all discovery has been accomplished.
In the event that the parties are unsuccessful in settling their dispute, the final alternative is to go to trial. Trials are very stressful and incredibly expensive, especially since the court has so many time-consuming requirements that must be followed by the parties and their lawyers. Once the Court rules at the end of the trial, you have a decision you will have to live with, unless you appeal. An appeal will only be successful if you can find a legal error made by the judge. You typically can’t simply appeal the judge’s decision just because you don’t like it. Most people end up realizing that they would rather settle their case and make significant compromises than submit their case to a judge who only knows about the family by hearing a few days of evidence.
In Washington state, to finalize a divorce, there are mandatory pleadings that must be filed. Every case needs Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and a Decree of Dissolution. If there are children, there must also be a Parenting Plan and Order of Child Support accompanied by a Child Support Worksheet.
The following pages outline a variety of approaches to the divorce process: amicable divorce, contested divorce, high conflict divorce, divorce for professionals, divorce 911 for those needing a second legal opinion, and divorce for medical professionals. Now that you have an idea of how the process works, you can decide what kind of legal services, if any, you think you will need.
When You Want to File for Divorce in King County, Contact DuBois Cary Law Group
At DuBois Cary Law Group, we offer different types of legal services, from full representation, to legal coaching, to pre-divorce consultations designed to educate you on your options moving forward.
Contact our Seattle or Bellevue Divorce Lawyers
If you have further questions or want to arrange a confidential consultation, please contact us today. We have offices in Seattle and Bellevue and can meet with you in one or both of those locations as needed. We look forward to meeting you and helping you achieve the solutions you seek.