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Does Every Divorce Require a Lawyer?

While Washington state does not require you to hire an attorney to finalize your divorce or legal separation, doing so can be highly beneficial. Working with an experienced divorce lawyer ensures that your best interests remain protected at every step of the legal process.

For the most part, the widely-cited statistic that approximately half of all marriages end in divorce continues to hold in 2024. Although both the marriage and divorce rates have declined over time, about half of all first marriages still end in divorce. Moreover, second and third marriages are even more likely to end in dissolution. While marriages can end at any time, the average length of a marriage before a divorce is eight years. Whether you and your spouse have been together for decades or you have only been married for a few months, you may find yourself realizing that the only path forward is to pursue a divorce. As a “no-fault” state, Washington does not require you to provide a specific reason for requesting a divorce. Instead, all you need to say is that irreconcilable differences are making it impossible for you and your spouse to continue your marital relationship.

Many people wonder whether it’s necessary to hire a divorce lawyer to help them move through the legal process, especially since they likely want to be as cost-effective as possible as they lay the foundation for their newly independent life (without the support of their former spouse’s income). Although Washington does not require divorcing couples to hire an attorney, taking this step is highly recommended in most cases. Most people will benefit from working with an experienced and caring Seattle divorce attorney to make sure that their best rights remain protected and that the divorce process is handled fairly and efficiently. Let’s take a look at what you can expect during the divorce process in Washington State, as well as the benefits of enlisting the guidance of a trusted and compassionate divorce attorney to support you during this challenging time. 

Navigating the Divorce Process in Washington State 

When most people hear the word “divorce,” they often picture a contentious courtroom battle where each spouse (and their attorneys) makes their case before a judge. Although some divorces may require litigation, this option is usually a last resort for divorcing couples. The majority of divorces are able to proceed outside of the courtroom using forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as mediation or arbitration. If you and your spouse are willing to compromise and work together to finalize your divorce, the process tends to move relatively smoothly and efficiently. In general, the divorce process in Washington includes the following steps.

Meeting the Eligibility Requirements

First, you should familiarize yourself with Washington’s eligibility requirements. You may file for divorce as long as one of the following statements is true: (1) You live in Washington; (2) Your spouse lives in Washington; (3) You are in the military and stationed in Washington; or (4) Your military spouse will be stationed in Washington for at least 90 days after you file and serve the divorce petition. Essentially, Washington needs to have personal jurisdiction over you and your spouse in order for the divorce to move forward.

Complete and File the Divorce Petition

Once you’re certain that your divorce meets the eligibility requirements, you may locate and complete the required forms, including the Petition for Divorce (Dissolution) document. This form asks for several pieces of information about you and your spouse. It also asks whether you and your spouse have put a prenuptial agreement in place and provides spaces for you to describe any real and personal property you may own. The form allows you to indicate whether you will be pursuing a spousal support agreement or seeking an order of protection from an abusive spouse as you move through the divorce process. Parents must also make decisions about custody arrangements and create a parenting plan that addresses all of the roles and responsibilities of each parent moving forward. Once you have completed this petition (as well as any other required documents), you must file it with the Court Clerk’s office in the Superior Courthouse of the county in which you are filing for divorce. 

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Arrange to Have the Papers Served on Your Spouse

Next, you will need to have the Summons and Petition served on your spouse. When your spouse receives these documents, you and your spouse must still provide each other with copies of any documents you file with the court. Both parties must commit to being open and transparent with each other during the divorce process to ensure that it proceeds fairly and productively. It’s also essential to recognize that Washington requires couples to observe a mandatory 90-day waiting period between the day they file the petition until the court can finalize the divorce. 

Participate in Mediation or Counseling

Some couples find that participating in counseling or mediation sessions can help them work through their differences with the other party. During mediation, a neutral third party (called the mediator) facilitates open and honest communication as the parties negotiate the terms of their divorce. For example, they can collaborate on establishing a parenting plan that best addresses the needs of their children and fosters a meaningful relationship between both parents and their children. If you and your spouse arrive at a workable divorce agreement together, you can sign it and submit it to the court for the judge to finalize it. 

Finalizing the Divorce

Many couples are able to finalize their divorce by reaching an agreement through informal negotiation or mediation and submitting this document to the court. The judge will review the agreement and, if everything is in order, approve it—finalizing the divorce. However, some cases may require litigation, especially if the parties cannot work together collaboratively or constructively. If this is the case, it will likely take longer to finalize your divorce, as you must work within the court system to obtain a resolution. 

The Benefits of Hiring an Experienced Seattle Divorce Lawyer

For the small minority of couples that are on the same page and agree on every aspect of their divorce, they may be able to move through this legal process without legal guidance. However, most people will benefit considerably from hiring an experienced Seattle divorce lawyer to support them during this challenging time. Working with an attorney is highly recommended for couples with substantial assets, child custody concerns, or your marriage has lasted for several years (or even decades), and you have acquired a complex set of marital assets. If your marriage involves domestic abuse, you should absolutely enlist the help of a caring and trusted divorce attorney who can help you obtain the legal protections you need to ensure your safety as you work to leave your abusive spouse. Let’s take a closer look at just a few of the advantages of hiring a knowledgeable and caring divorce attorney. 

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Customized Legal Guidance 

Divorce can be a highly emotional and destabilizing experience for many people. As you struggle with the heavy and complex emotions associated with the ending of a long-term relationship, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless steps facing you. When you enlist the help of a trusted divorce attorney, you can feel more informed and prepared to move through every step of the legal process. Your divorce lawyer will answer your questions, address your concerns, and empower you to make each decision and complete every document with greater clarity and confidence. 

Looking Out For Your Best Interests

Your lawyer can use their expertise to help you plan for your future after the divorce is finalized. For many people leaving long-term marriages, the adjustment to a single life can be disruptive and even intimidating. You can trust that your attorney will look out for your best interests at every opportunity, seeking spousal maintenance or other sources of economic support to help you transition to the next phase of your life. Working with a knowledgeable divorce lawyer during the division of your marital property and assets is especially important, as your attorney can advocate for a more equitable division of assets to ensure that you have the solid foundation you need to move forward with stability and certainty. 

Empowering You to Move Forward Into a Brighter Future

Although working with a Seattle divorce lawyer is a great way to navigate the logistical aspects of your divorce, having a legal advocate in your corner can support you in several other ways. Many people find that enlisting the support of a dedicated legal representative provides them with the peace of mind and reassurance they crave during this disruptive and uncertain time in their lives. Sometimes, just knowing that you have someone by your side who is working to keep your future as bright as possible can do wonders for your emotional well-being. Whatever your specific circumstances may be, give yourself the gift of working with a skilled and empathetic divorce lawyer who can support you during this challenging time. 

If you are just starting to explore your divorce options in the Seattle area, the dedicated and caring legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is here to help you talk through your divorce goals. Give our office a call today at (206) 682-5200 to get started with a knowledgeable Seattle divorce law attorney.

We Help Good People in Bad Situations

The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.

Divorce and Separation

Hemmat Law Group help good people in bad situations.

Our divorce lawyers provide expert legal advice for all aspects of divorce, including child custody, support and property division. Contact us today.