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    March 21, 2023
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    Custody & Support
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    Steven A. Hemmat

How To Tell if Washington Has Jurisdiction in Your Family Law Case

When you move forward with a family law matter, you must file the required paperwork with the court that has the legal authority (or jurisdiction) to oversee the case. Determining jurisdiction can be complicated, so reach out to a family law attorney for guidance.

Legal issues concerning the family tend to be emotionally complicated to navigate. As you move through this challenging process, you will need to make several weighty decisions that will shape the course of your (and your family’s) future. Whether you are exploring your divorce options or struggling with a child custody or child support dispute, enlisting the guidance and support of a trusted and compassionate family law attorney is the best way to ensure that you secure a favorable outcome. In addition to providing practical guidance and representing your best interests, your attorney can help you navigate complicated legal aspects of your case, such as jurisdictional considerations. This post will explore jurisdictional matters in Washington state, specifically as they relate to family law cases.

Why Does Jurisdiction Matter?

Jurisdiction refers to the power of a court to adjudicate cases and issue orders. For instance, if a couple is seeking a divorce, they must file the required paperwork with the court that has the legal authority (or jurisdiction) to dissolve the marriage. While jurisdiction is relatively simple to determine in cases where the parties live close to one another, some circumstances can complicate jurisdictional matters considerably. It’s important to recognize that states may handle family law matters differently, so the divorce process in Oregon will look different from a divorce in Washington state. In some states, laws governing family law cases may even vary by county.

Knowing Where to File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage

One of the first steps of the divorce process is filing a petition for the dissolution of marriage with the court. It’s essential to understand Washington’s requirements governing when and where a spouse may file this petition. Under Washington law, you are eligible to file for divorce as long as you meet one of the following requirements: (1) You are a Washington resident; (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. As long as you meet one of these requirements, Washington has jurisdiction and can process your divorce petition.

When Spouses Live in Different States

In cases where the spouses reside in different states, jurisdiction becomes more complicated. If you are seeking to have your marriage dissolved, but your spouse does not reside in Washington, this could impact your options. Washington does not have personal jurisdiction over nonresidents, meaning that the court won’t be able to make certain types of orders. However, if you can show that your spouse lived in Washington at some point during the marriage or that one of your children was conceived in Washington, the state will likely have personal jurisdiction over your spouse. These matters vary significantly by case, so seek the guidance of a knowledgeable family law attorney for more specific information regarding your situation.

How Children Impact Jurisdiction in Washington Cases

Family law cases involving children are inherently complex, especially regarding jurisdictional considerations. Several decades ago, every state adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which provides statutes to establish jurisdiction in child custody cases. Essentially, it provides guidelines for identifying the “home state” in these types of cases. Under these statutes, there are several factors that the courts must consider when determining jurisdiction. For instance, they will look at the location of the child’s residence during the previous six months, as well as whether the child has significant connections in a particular state. The ultimate goal of the UCCJEA is to protect the child’s best interests; the courts recognize that divorce and family law disputes can be highly disruptive to a child’s life, so they want to provide the child with an arrangement that serves and supports their well-being.

Identifying the Child’s “Home State”

According to the statutes outlined in the UCCJEA, the child’s home state is not automatically the state in which the child currently resides. Washington may only be considered the “home state” if one of the following statements is true: (1) The child has lived in Washington with a parent or guardian for at least the last six months in a row before the court case is filed; (2) The child is six months old or younger and has lived in Washington with a parent or guardian since birth at the time your case is filed; or (3) Washington was the child’s home state (i.e., either item 1 or 2 from above were true) within six months of filing the court case and one parent or guardian has been living in Washington since the child left the state. However, there are circumstances in which Washington may still have jurisdictional authority in cases where the home state is not Washington. These matters can be confusing and frustrating to navigate on your own, so work with your caring and knowledgeable attorney to help you move forward with greater certainty and clarity.


If you need help resolving a family law dispute, contact the Hemmat Law Group at (206) 682-5200 to speak with a caring and experienced Seattle attorney.


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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.

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Article by Steven A. Hemmat
Founder, CEO