Washington Divorce FAQ

Divorce – State FAQ – Washington

Residency requirements, venue and procedures

Q: How long must I have lived in Washington prior to filing for divorce in an Washington court?

A: Any party who (1) is a resident of Washington, or (2) is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in Washington, or (3) is married to a party who is a resident of Washington or who is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in Washington may petition the Court for a decree of dissolution of marriage.

Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?

A: The party filing the action is called the Petitioner, while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the Respondent.

Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?

A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. In Washington, proper venue for the divorce action is the Superior Court or Family Court. The dissolution of marriage action may be filed in any county where either party resides.

Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce? The order granting the divorce?

A: The title of the document initiating the divorce proceeding is a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.

Q: Are there any waiting periods associated with a divorce action?

A: At least ninety days must elapse from the date the petition was filed and served upon the respondent before the Court may enter a judgment of dissolution of marriage.

Grounds for Divorce

Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?

A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in Washington. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.

Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in Washington?

A: The no-fault ground for divorce in the State of Washington is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Fault grounds are beyond the scorpe of the USLF divorce package.

Legal Separation

Q: Does the state of Washington offer the option of legal separation, in lieu of an absolute divorce?

A: Yes. If the filing party requests the court to decree a legal separation in lieu of an absolute divorce, the court shall enter the decree in that form, unless the other party objects and petitions for a decree of dissolution of marriage or, in the alternative, a declaration of invalidity of the marriage.

Property Division

Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?

A: Washington is a so-called “equitable distribution” state. This means that the division of property and debts between the divorcing parties should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. The court has wide discretion in equitably distributing property.

Q: Is the “separate property” of one spouse subject to being divided up?

A: The question here is whether property “belonging to” one of the parties should be included in the marital estate for purposes of an equitable division. Generally, separate property acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property nor its income has been used for the common benefit of the parties during their marriage.

Q: What if the parties occasionally use an item of separate property (for example, silver table utensils inherited by the wife) for the benefit of both parties?

A: The property may be subject to division. Where the parties regularly use property acquired by one party before marriage for the common benefit of the parties, it is more likely to be available for consideration in dividing property. The frequency of use may be considered by the court in making the decision.

Spousal support/alimony

Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?

A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.

Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?

A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.

Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?

A: The court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse. The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, after considering all relevant factors including but not limited to those listed in the information section of the Washington Divorce Main Page.

Child custody and visitation

Q: What is child custody and visitation?

A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non-custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).

Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?

A: The State of Washington will award joint or sole custody of minor children of the marriage based upon the best interests of the child(ren). A detailed discussion of the parenting plan and the court’s consideration thereof is set out in the divorce information section of the Washington Divorce Main Page.

Q: Do grandparents in the state of Washington have any visitation rights with their grandchildren?

A: Yes. Grandparents may ask for visitation with their grandchildren, and will be granted said visitation as long as it is found to be in the best interests of the child and the parents rights are not unduly infringed upon.

Child support

Q: What is “child support”?

A: Child support is money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).

Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?

A: The court shall order either or both parents owing a duty of support to any child of the marriage dependent upon either or both spouses to pay an amount determined under the child support guidelines established by the State. A detailed discussion of the Pennsylvania child support guidelines can be viewed in the divorce information section on the Washington Divorce Main Page.

Inside Washington Divorce FAQ