Frequently Asked Divorce Questions

Do I need to list a reason for filing my divorce?
Washington became a no-fault divorce state in 1973, which means you do not need to specify the reason you are seeking divorce. If one spouse believes that the marriage is broken to the point that it cannot be repaired, a Washington court will grant a properly drafted petition for divorce. There is no need for a spouse to assign blame or show proof.
How long should I expect the divorce process to take?
A divorce can be finalized 90 days after the petition is filed with the court. Washington requires courts to wait 90 days before finalizing any divorce; often referred to as the cooling off period. In simple uncontested divorces, the paperwork can be prepared and filed with the court within a day or two. Typically it takes a bit longer to reach an agreement that works for both spouses. Uncontested divorces average three to six months from initiation to the date a judge signs off on the divorce order. Contested divorce cases average nine months to a year before completion.
What is an uncontested divorce?
To file an uncontested divorce spouses must agree on all issues of the divorce. Examples issues include, how to divide property and how much time each parent will spend with the children. Uncontested divorce offers a simplified form of divorce for spouses that are able to come to terms outside of the courtroom. Generally they take less time and are less expensive than contested cases.
Can one attorney represent both my spouse and me?
An attorney can only represent one spouse during a divorce. In order to work with both spouses, an attorney may act as a general advisor and prepare the legal forms. They act less as an attorney and more as a mediator and scribe. In this role, an attorney can offer guidance to the spouses to improve the agreement overall and ensure that the divorce forms are properly drafted and filed.
How does mediation work in divorce?
Washington State does not require mediation before divorce, but some counties impose a requirement that spouses participate in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before trial. Mediation, the most common form of ADR, can help spouses negotiate, but the outcome is not binding. Both King and Snohomish County require ADR. Typically each spouse will be in a separate room and a mediator will go from room to room communicating positions. This style decreases conflict and gives each spouse the ability to speak openly. Mediation can last from an hour to a full day.
How should I respond if I’m served with divorce papers?
If you’re served with divorce papers do not ignore them. Contact an attorney as soon as possible. You usually have 20 days to file your response with the court. Missing the deadline allows your spouse to file a Motion for Default. If the motion is granted your spouse can complete the divorce without you. The court will likely approve their divorce terms and you will have no say in the matter.
Can I file for divorce in Washington if my spouse moved away?
As long as the court can establish jurisdiction you can file for divorce in Washington even if your spouse has left the state or country. Jurisdiction means that a court has the authority to decide the case. For example, if a husband and wife lived in Washington while married and the wife files in Washington where she still resides, a Washington court would have jurisdiction even if the husband now lives in New York.
Do I need to hire someone to serve my spouse?
A spouse is not allowed to serve divorce documents themselves, but they aren’t required to hire a professional either. Anyone 18 years or older, who is not a party to the case, can perform personal service. People often ask friends or family to deliver the divorce papers, but they can professionals as well. After the papers are delivered, the server must sign a Proof of Personal Service, which states which forms were delivered as well as the date, time, and location of service.
How can I serve my spouse if they live far away?
A spouse can be served in person, by mail, or through publication (posting notice of the divorce in the newspaper). If your spouse lives far away you’ll often need to ask a friend or hire someone to serve them in person. If for example, your spouse is avoiding service by hiding from you or they live in a different state, you can ask the court for permission to serve by mail.
How can I get divorced if I don’t know where my spouse is?
If you don’t know where your spouse is you’ll need to make a reasonable attempt to find them. Old contacts through family or friends can hopefully provide an address. Otherwise, a search through online directories like the White Pages can help you find a current address.

The reason you’ll need to find them is that in order to file for divorce you’ll need to serve your spouse the divorce forms or at least make an attempt. If you find a current address you can either have someone serve your spouse in person or request that the court allow you to deliver the documents by mail. If you’re unable to find an address a court will allow you to perform service by publication. Publication in Washington requires notice of the divorce is placed in a newspaper for six consecutive weeks.

Where does Truce Law file most of its cases?
We typically file in either King or Wahkiakum County. If we represent a client and act as their attorney throughout the whole process we work out of Seattle’s King County Courthouse. For unbundled services, where we help people prepare their forms before filing pro se, we direct clients to Wahkiakum County. Our experience is that divorce by mail is simpler and less intimidating for someone new to the legal system.
What are the benefits of Wahkiakum County’s divorce by mail service?
First, Wahkiakum County’s filing fee is less expensive than other Washington courts. Second, they don’t require parties to appear in court. If spouses pay a $30 ex parte fee, the court will approve the divorce as long as the paperwork is properly filed. Third, it’s the most efficient form of divorce. People don’t need to take the time to drive to court, search for the appropriate room, and wait around for their case to be called. Once a client places the paperwork in the mail, they’re done. The court handles the rest.
Are there any drawbacks to filing by mail in Wahkiakum County?
There are two main drawbacks to consider if filing by mail. First, if you ever try to modify the divorce terms you may pay extra court fees. To modify the terms of a divorce, you’ll either need to pay a modification fee in Wahkiakum County or a modification fee in a courtroom closer to home. The modification fee will be cheaper in the court that finalized the divorce. For example, a King County Court will modify a King County decree for $56, but will charge $260 to modify a decree from outside King County.

Second, if the case becomes contested before it is complete it may be difficult to move it to a courtroom closer to your home. We only encourage clients to file by mail once all documents are signed and the issues are agreed to. This ensures that a more complicated case doesn’t evolve, which would require court appearances.

What happens if the court doesn’t approve my divorce forms filed by mail?
Once the court receives your divorce forms they will send back a receipt, which will notify you if anything is missing. Return any missing documents as soon as possible. After the 90 day cooling off period a judge will view your papers. If they are properly prepared they should be approved.

***Warning, there is one common reason divorce by mails forms are rejected. The signatures are not consistent throughout the forms.

You and your spouse will sign and notarize a verification form. If your notarized signatures don’t match the signatures throughout the documents the judge may be skeptical if each is valid. A judge can request that you resend any forms that do not match. If this occurs you’ll need to resend the forms repairing the deficiency and submit another $30 ex parte fee. The court should process your paperwork soon after.

How do I determine if I’m eligible for a fee waiver?
You can be approved for a fee waiver if one of these three criteria applies to you.

One, you receive public assistance. Public assistance includes food stamps, federal poverty-related veteran’s benefits, SSI, TANF or HEN.

Two, your income is at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Three, you can’t afford the fee because of large basic living expenses. Basic living expenses include food, shelter, utilities, health care, transportation, clothing, loan payments, support payments and court imposed obligations.

What are temporary orders and will I need them?
After a divorce is filed and pending, temporary orders can be put in place to create a status quo. Temporary orders cover a variety of issues, such as parenting time, spousal support, child support, who will live in the family residence, and temporary restraints to limit the sale or transfer of property.

They are not mandatory. If possible, settling these issues without court involvement will save time and legal expenses. Once ordered they are rarely modified and will be in place until the divorce is finalized.

How is real estate transferred or divided?
Courts typically divide real estate in one of three ways. First, a court can issue an order that property be sold and the proceeds divided. Second, one spouse will transfer their interest in a property for an equal amount of assets or less of the community debt. Property transfers are typically accompanied by real estate excise tax affidavits and quit claim deeds. Third, a court can divide property in two. This is less common, but could occur if for example, the spouses own a large piece of land.
How are retirement benefits divided?
Retirement benefits can be distributed intact or divided between the spouses. Courts assume that spouses have an equal interest in retirement plans, unless a spouse can prove that some of the monies were earned prior to marriage or after separation. A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is used when the retirement benefits are divided.
If we divide our debt can I still be held accountable for any of it?
Simply dividing the debt between spouses in the divorce decree is fine as long as those debts are paid. If your ex stops making payments a creditor can seek payment from you even if the divorce decree states you are not responsible for that debt. If there is significant debt or a chance that one party will not fulfill their obligations, work with an attorney to add terms to the divorce decree to limit responsibility.
How are life insurance policies affected by divorce?
It’s a good idea to reexamine any life insurance policies during divorce. If your spouse is the listed beneficiary, you may want to update the beneficiary to a child or other family member. You can also use life insurance as a tool to ensure financial obligations of the divorce are met. Specifically, a policy can safeguard child support and maintenance payments in the event of death. If used to ensure child support, typically the beneficiary will be the custodial parent (parent who the children spend the majority of their time with) and must be maintained until the obligation is fulfilled.
How does child support work?
Child support is a monthly payment typically made to the spouse who spends the majority of the time with the children. It is meant to provide financial support for the children based on the financial means of the parents. The value is determined by the monthly net income of the parents, the number of children, and the age of the children. Generally it lasts until a child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later.
Which parent will claim the children as dependents on tax returns?
Parents can agree to divide the tax credit many ways. Sometimes the spouse with the higher income will ask for the tax exemption during negotiations. Alternatively, the spouses can switch off every other year or each claim 1 child per year. If no agreement is made, the custodial parent (parent the children spend more time with) has the right to claim the children for tax purposes.
What happens if one of us breaks the parenting plan?
Violating the parenting plan can lead to being held in contempt of court. This can lead to restrictions on parenting time. If the violations are serious enough, jail time, fines, and payment of the other spouse’s attorney fees are possible consequences. Instead of disregarding the order it is best to attempt to amend the parenting plan through conversation with your former spouse, dispute resolution, or filing for a parenting plan modification in court.
Will I need to attend parenting classes?
Each county court system has different requirements. If you prefer not to attend parenting classes and your divorce is uncontested you can file your documents by mail in Wahkiakum County. They will process your divorce without court appearances or parenting class requirements.
Can we get a divorce if my wife is pregnant?
Yes, but a court will not issue a parenting plan or child support order for an unborn child. If the wife is pregnant, it is often best to wait until the baby is born to complete the divorce. You may still get a divorce order, but a court will set aside any ruling involving the child. This means you would need to return to court at a later date. Waiting until the child is born to complete the process will save time and legal fees.
Will I be required to pay maintenance (spousal support)?
Maintenance is not mandatory. If a spouse asks for maintenance a court will determine eligibility and amount based on the length of marriage and the resources of each spouse. Washington does not have a defined alimony formula for amount or duration. Although, a good rule of thumb for duration is the three to one rule. For each year of marriage you can expect to receive 1 year of support.
How is a legal separation different from a divorce?

In a legal separation, spouses go through the same steps that are taken during a divorce, but the marriage remains intact. For example, property is still divided, parenting plans are issued, and child support is determined. There is no 90-day cooling off period, like in divorce, so a legal separation can be completed much faster. However, if the spouses decide to get back together it is difficult reverse the legal separation. It’s often easiest to convert the legal separation into a divorce and then remarry. 

Can you cancel the divorce after you’ve started?
If you file for divorce and change your mind you are able to stop the divorce before it is finalized. If your spouse has not filed a response in court you can dismiss the case on your own. Once your spouse responds, you’ll both need to agree to end the divorce proceedings.