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Washington Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Washington

Washington permits married couples to enter into a binding legal separation instead of a divorce, but a legal separation is not required before filing or obtaining a divorce in Washington.

Spouses elect to get a legal separation instead of a divorce for a number of reasons including religious beliefs or economic advantages (taxes and medical insurance) or one or both spouses opposition to divorce. Sometimes the spouses may not be certain that they want to end their marriage.

In legal separation, parting couples make formal financial or child arrangements. Legal separation allows a couple to divide marital assets and liabilities, and if they have children, it allows the couple to obtain court orders for child custody, support and visitation. Legal separation ensures that all child and spousal support arrangements agreed upon by the separating parties are effected, and it spells out the division of assets and liabilities.

When both spouses agree, a legal separation can be undone. When spouses reconcile and revive their marriage, they can file a Motion to Vacate Decree of Legal Separation. The spouses then reunite and do not have to remarry. If the action is still pending, the spouses can request that the case be dismissed..

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.


The Petition for Legal Separation must be filled out and sent to the court for the separation to be legal. A court appearance is not needed for a legal separation if the petitioner and the respondent can agree to separation terms.


In Washington, the only grounds for a legal separation are the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. To file for a legal separation, spouses do not have to be physically separated and living in separate residences.


Washington law does not set a residency requirement for a specified length of time. The petitioner only needs to be a resident of Washington on the day he or she files the petition for legal separation, or a member of the military stationed in the sate. The petitioner may file in the Superior Court of any county in Washington.

Initial Procedure

Like a divorce action, the defendant spouse must be served process, which includes the petition for legal separation and summons. Service of process in Washington can occur through the county sheriff, a professional process server or anyone over 18 not a party to the suit. The summons and petition must be filed in the Superior or Family court.


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