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    January 27, 2024
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    Andrew Linden

Does it Matter Who Files For Divorce in Washington State?

In most cases, it does not matter which spouse files for divorce first in Washington State. However, there are some advantages to being the party who files first, especially if you are seeking a temporary order of protection. Discuss your options with a dedicated divorce lawyer to learn more.

The ending of any long-term relationship can be disorienting and overwhelming. Every marriage is different, and you and your spouse will have your own ways of coping with and processing the conclusion of this partnership. While some spouses make the mutual decision to go their separate ways, other marriages end when one spouse wants to leave—even if the other spouse wants to work to save the marriage. Whatever the unique circumstances of your relationship may be, the prospect of moving through the divorce process may be daunting or intimidating. Between navigating the seemingly endless amounts of legal documents you will need to complete and file and managing the complex emotional fallout associated with the ending of your marriage, the divorce process requires a considerable amount of time, focus, and energy.

However, as anxious as you may feel at the moment, it’s essential that you understand that you do not have to go through this difficult process alone. Enlisting the guidance of a knowledgeable and compassionate Seattle divorce lawyer is the best way to ensure that you complete each step of the process as smoothly and efficiently as possible while protecting your best interests at every turn. It’s natural to have several questions about what to expect during the divorce process in Washington, and your attorney will be right there to provide you with the answers and information you need to feel confident in the decisions you make. Let’s explore a topic that many divorcing couples wonder about as they initiate the legal process—whether it makes a difference which party files first for divorce. 

Divorce Basics in Washington State

Before we dive into specific aspects of the divorce process, it’s helpful to gain a basic understanding of how this legal process works in Washington State. First, divorcing couples should recognize that Washington is what’s known as a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that either party may file for divorce at any time and for any reason. The party who files for divorce (called the petitioner) does not need to cite a specific reason for seeking a legal dissolution of the marriage—they must simply state that “irreconcilable differences” have prompted them to file for divorce. The court will not ask for any more details as to why the parties are seeking a dissolution of marriage. 

Washington is a Community Property State

One of the most time-consuming aspects of the divorce process is figuring out how to divide up your assets and debts. Washington is a community property state, meaning that any assets acquired over the course of the marriage are considered jointly owned property. Generally, the longer the couple has been married and the more complex their comingling of assets has become, the more time and attention it will take to divide up the assets in a fair and equitable manner. Working with a seasoned Seattle divorce attorney is the best way to ensure that you are able to negotiate a fair division of assets that lays a solid financial foundation for your life’s next chapter.

Filing For Divorce in Washington State

To initiate the divorce process, either spouse may complete and file a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The court will assign a case number and establish a case schedule that sets various deadlines. Once the court has received these filing documents, Washington’s matador 90-day waiting period will take effect. It’s essential to recognize that everyone must observe this waiting period, even those who fully agree to the terms of their divorce. There are several paths to help you and your spouse obtain a divorce, such as informal negotiations, mediation, or litigation. Most couples are able to finalize the divorce well before a trial becomes necessary, but it remains a last resort option for particularly contentious divorce cases. No matter what the specific circumstances of your divorce may be, consider enlisting the support of a caring and knowledgeable divorce lawyer to guide you through every step of the process, empowering you to take control of your future at every opportunity.

Potential Advantages of Filing First For Divorce in Washington

Since Washington is a no-fault divorce state, either party may file for divorce at any time. In most cases, it does not matter which spouse initiates the divorce process, as they must work together to negotiate a fair and equitable division of assets and establish other necessary agreements (for example, child support, child custody, or spousal maintenance). However, there are some occasions when it may be advantageous to be the filing party (also known as the petitioner). Let’s take a closer look at some of the potential benefits of being the petitioning party when seeking a divorce in King or Pierce County. 

You Are Seeking a Protective Order

The most common reason why you may want to be the spouse who files for divorce first is if you think you need to put a protective order in place. Protective orders shelter survivors of domestic violence, stalking, harassment, or other forms of abuse. These legal protections prevent an abusive spouse from contacting or attempting to control their partner for a specific period of time (which can be extended by the court if necessary). Divorcing an abusive spouse can be extremely dangerous, so seeking a protective order is the best way to maintain your safety (and that of your children) as you end your marriage. If your marriage involves domestic violence, coercive control, or other forms of abuse, reach out to a compassionate and trusted Seattle divorce lawyer to discuss your options for putting the necessary legal protections in place to keep you safe during this vulnerable time. You can seek a protective order at the same time that you file the petition for divorce, which enables the court to put those protections in place as quickly as possible to preserve your safety. As the filing spouse, the court will take your request for a protective order seriously and do what it can to help you escape your abusive marriage as safely as possible.

You Are Making Serious Allegations Against Your Spouse

In rare cases, a divorce becomes so contentious that one spouse makes serious allegations against the other in order to convince the court to deny the other spouse parenting time or child custody. For instance, if you are desperate to spend as much time with your children as possible and limit the other parent’s custodial role, you may accuse your spouse of addiction or highlight their inability to provide a safe home environment for your children. The court must determine whether these accusations are credible, and they may look at whether you were the spouse who filed for divorce first. If so, the court may be more likely to believe these allegations; however, if your spouse was the one who initiated the divorce, the court may wonder why you did not try to leave your unstable or unsafe spouse first. 

Your Case Will End in a Trial

The majority of divorces are able to be achieved through various forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, such as mediation or arbitration. Taking a divorce to trial is often a last resort that’s reserved for particularly contentious or complex cases. If your divorce proceeds to trial, the court allows the petitioner to make their closing arguments first, followed by the respondent. The trial ends with a brief rebuttal from the petitioner. In other words, the petitioner has the first and last word for their closing arguments, giving them a slight advantage over the respondent. However, since very few cases move to litigation (and even fewer go all the way through closing arguments), being the petitioning party carries only a marginal advantage over being the responding party when seeking a divorce. 

Personalized Legal Guidance When You Need It Most

Divorce is a significant transition that can upend your life for a considerable amount of time. As you mourn the ending of your relationship and start focusing on what your post-divorce life will look like, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and anxious by all this uncertainty. Even if you and your spouse have agreed to move through the process as amicably as possible, disagreements will likely arise from time to time. Seeking the guidance of an experienced and empathetic Seattle divorce lawyer can give you the clarity and confidence you need to move through each step and make informed decisions with greater certainty. Your attorney will work closely with you to help you articulate your divorce goals and pursue the most strategic path toward achieving them. Together, you can lay the secure foundation you need to build your new life and enjoy whatever comes next. 

If you are considering filing for divorce in King County or Pierce County, the experienced and empathetic legal team at the Hemmat Law Group is ready to help you explore your options. Please call our Seattle office today at (206) 682-5200 to get started with a dedicated and caring divorce 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.

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Article by Andrew Linden
Associate Attorney