If you are feeling unhappy with your marriage or realize that pursuing a divorce may be your best option, it’s natural to feel anxious, emotional, and overwhelmed. The thought of wading through the seemingly endless process of making decisions about property division, spousal support, child custody, and other critical matters can be intimidating. However, it’s essential to recognize that you do not need to move through this process alone. Enlisting the guidance of a trusted and compassionate Seattle divorce attorney can give you the support and encouragement you need to make informed decisions with greater clarity and confidence. As you begin to explore your divorce options, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the process. Below is a brief overview of what divorce looks like in Washington, as well as some practical steps to help you lay the foundation for a brighter future.
As a no-fault divorce state, Washington does not require either spouse to cite a specific reason for pursuing a divorce. Simply put, if one spouse is determined to separate, they can do so for any reason. One does not need to prove that the other spouse was responsible for the marriage’s failure; even if your spouse was to blame for the marriage’s ending, it does not play a factor in your eligibility for obtaining a divorce. As you move forward with the process, the court will not ask why you are separating.
In order to move forward with a divorce filing in Washington, you and your spouse must be legally married and currently reside in Washington state. It’s important to note that any legally married couple, including heterosexual, same-sex, or religious spouses, all follow the same process for seeking and obtaining a divorce. If you know your marriage is no longer working, no matter who you are, you may initiate the divorce process to start planning for a brighter future.
In Washington state, the party petitioning for divorce signs and dates a summons and petition, which initiates the divorce proceeding. If they are not joining in your divorce petition, the other spouse will need to be served personally by someone over 18 and not a party to the case. You yourself cannot serve your partner – someone like a friend or process service agency can accomplish this for you. Next, you must observe a mandatory waiting period of at least 91 days before the court can finalize your divorce. This waiting period applies even to parties who are in complete agreement on the terms of the divorce. If you and your spouse are in agreement as to the terms of your separation, you can avoid this 91-day minimum wait by filing a legal separation instead.
In some cases, a party may petition the court to issue a temporary order for a designated reason (i.e., to provide emergency financial support, establish an interim parenting plan, or provide additional relief to the parties). These orders are only in effect until the divorce is finalized. If the court approves this motion, the divorce will then enter the discovery phase, where the parties may send formal requests to one another to access financial information, medical records, retirement account balances, or other important information. At this point, the divorce may be handled through negotiation, mediation, or litigation, depending on several factors.
Divorcing spouses who see eye-to-eye on the terms of the divorce may reach a settlement through more informal negotiations. However, many couples find that they need a neutral third party to help them resolve their dispute. Washington state requires couples who are disputing the terms of their divorce to pursue mediation before proceeding to trial. Mediation is always quicker, cheaper, and more confidential than taking the matter to court. In many cases, mediation allows the parties to work through their differences and negotiate the terms of their divorce. Of course, if mediation does not achieve this outcome, the parties may move the matter to court.
If you and your spouse cannot resolve your difference through mediation, you may need to take the matter to trial. While enlisting the services of an experienced divorce lawyer is a good idea at any stage, it’s crucial that you have an attorney by your side in court to advocate for your best interests. Family law trials are bench trials in Washington, meaning there is no jury, and the judge decides all aspects of your case at their sole discretion. Trial is usually a last resort, as most family law matters settle long before the situation gets this dire
Even spouses that are on amicable terms tend to find the divorce process time-consuming and challenging. Divorce is the most legally important act you will ever perform voluntarily in your life, so give yourself the time and space to make each decision with careful thought. Although it’s possible to move through the divorce process without an attorney, working with a trusted legal professional is highly recommended to ensure you achieve your goals and avoid costly mistakes only apparent years later. Not only will your attorney help you navigate the procedural aspects of your divorce, but they will also answer your questions, address your concerns, and provide you with the support and empathy you need to face each step with confidence.
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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