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Washington Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
In Washington, as in other states, the principal divorce paper is the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, which is similar to a divorce complaint in other jurisdictions. The petition assigns assets and liabilities, establishes spousal support, outlines the proposed custody plan for minor children, and deals with any other important issue. In addition to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, the petitioner must complete and file a Summons, a Confidential Information Form, and a Vital Statistics Form.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
After assembling and completing the necessary forms, the petitioner files them in the appropriate county. Washington law allows the Petitioner to file in either in his or her home county or the county in which the respondent resides. Additionally, the petitioner may file in Lincoln County, which allows nonresidents to file within its jurisdiction when both sides consent.
Serving the Documents
After the petitioner files forms, they must be served on the respondent. "Service of process," as it is called, provides the respondent with copies of all divorce forms and gives him or her a chance to respond. To accomplish proper service, the petitioner can hire a professional process server or pay for the sheriff to deliver the papers. If the respondent’s location is unknown, the petitioner can also publish a notice in the local newspaper.If the respondent voluntarily joins the action, the petitioner can skip service when the respondent files a Joinder to the Petition.
Once the respondent files his or her receipt of the documents with the court, the petitioner waits at least 90 days before the court schedules a final hearing on the matter. This cooling off period gives both sides an opportunity to attempt a settlement of all the issues within the case. If they cannot agree, the case proceeds to a contested divorce.
Disclosing Financial Information
Between the initial filing and the resolution of all issues, Washington law requires the parties to make a complete disclosure of all income, assets, and debts. Before the court will grant a final decree of dissolution, both spouses must submit a Financial Declaration. This document is usually exchanged as early as possible to facilitate potential settlement.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
When the spouses reach a mutual agreement to divorce, decide how to divide assets and liabilities, and if applicable, agree on child-related issues such as custody, visitation and support, they can file for an uncontested divorce. In most cases no court appearance is necessary when using the uncontested divorce process.
If the spouses cannot agree, the case proceeds as a contested divorce, which can be a lengthy, expensive and enervating ordeal.
Finalizing the Divorce
Washington requires a 90-day wait from the date the divorce petition is filed until a judge can finalize the divorce.
According to Washington divorce laws, the responding spouse has 20 days to reply if residing in Washington or 60 days to respond if living outside the state. The divorce paperwork must be filed and served upon the other spouse for more than 90 days before the judge signs the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. This 90-day waiting period is a cooling off time.
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