by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Divorce Attorney
How do you file for divorce in Washington State? File and serve a petition with supporting documents and pay the county clerk a fee, usually $314. You can find the forms on the Washington State Court Forms Website under family law > divorce. Most of the forms are self-explanatory.
The difficulty is in ascertaining which documents pertain to your case, how to complete the few vague areas of the forms, and determining what to do with the documents. This article provides that guidance.
If you were instead looking for guidance on the entire divorce process rather than just the starting point, see Divorce in Washington State: An Overview & Guide.
Table of Contents
1) Where to File
2) What You Always Need
3) What You Need if You Have Kids
4) If You’re Requesting Temporary Orders
5) Filing and Serving the Documents
I. Where to File
Normally you must file your petition in a county where you or your spouse live, even if only recently moved to Washington. The exception is if the parties agree on all aspects of the case, including who gets what. Washington residents who divorce by agreement can petition in any Washington county. Read this article in conjunction with Entering Agreed Orders if you and your spouse agree on the terms of your divorce.
II. What You Always Need
When petitioning for divorce, you’ll always need a 1) court filing fee, 2) case cover sheet, 3) divorce petition, 4) summons, 5) confidential information form, and 6) health department form.
1. Court Filing Fee. As of the time of this writing, the court filing fee for a divorce is $314, usually payable by credit card, debit card, cashier’s check, or money order (not by personal check). Cashier’s checks and money orders should be made out to the county clerk’s office, such as “Payable to Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk’s Office”.
You can ask the court to reduce or waive your filing fee if your income and assets put you below the poverty level. In our firm’s experience the court never FULLY waives the filing fee, with $80 being the lowest amount we’ve seen authorized in the counties where we practice. The exact process of requesting a reduction or waiver depends on each county’s local rules and court forms. You might consider speaking with the relevant county’s family law facilitator’s office. Facilitators are usually located in each county’s Super Court building, and they charge about $10 per session. Most people don’t think the fee waiver process is worth their time unless they have no choice or have to visit the family law facilitator anyway.
2. Case Cover Sheet. Leave the section for the case number blank – the clerk will fill that in. For the case title, write the party names. Then put an X on the line next to “dissolution with children” or “dissolution with no children”. Dissolution means divorce.
As for the county designation, you can file your divorce in any county where either of the parties resides.
3. Divorce Petition. Again, leave the case number blank on this and the other documents you’re completing at before the case has begun. You’ll receive your case number when you file your documents with the court clerk.
With respect to property and debts, just indicate that you want the court to divide everything “fairly as the court decides later”. Similarly, if you’d like spousal support (alimony/maintenance) or an award of attorney fees, you can leave the amount for later determination. Normally making a specific request on these topics can only be used against you by limiting what the judge awards. It only makes sense to specify assets, debts, and the amount of maintenance and attorney fees if you think the other side won’t respond to the petition. If the other side doesn’t respond, the court will give you any specific property and financial relief requested in the petition.
Click here for an example divorce petition from Washington State. Washington’s mandatory form templates change from time to time, but the gist typically remains the same.
4. Summons, Confidential Information Form, and Health Department Form (Certificate of Dissolution, Declaration of Invalidity of Marriage, or Legal Separation). Generally self-explanatory. Click here for an example divorce summons.
III. What You Need if You Have Kids
If you have kids, you should also complete 1) a proposed parenting plan, 2) proposed child support worksheets, and 3) a proposed child support order. A proposed child support order isn’t necessary in some counties, but better to err on the side of caution.
1. Proposed Parenting Plan. As the name suggests, a proposed parenting plan indicates what you want the parenting plan to be. Our firm has an article on Types & Examples of Parenting Plans.
2. Proposed Child Support Worksheets and Child Support Order. Child support worksheets provide the math for child support calculations. The child support order is essentially self-explanatory. Our firm has an article on Calculating Child Support: The Basics.
IV. What You Need if You’re Requesting Temporary Orders
The average divorce takes about a year from petition until final orders. That’s a long time to wait for relief, and many parties want temporary orders in the interim. Temporary orders can address innumerable topics. Common ones include temporary parenting plans, temporary child support orders, and temporary spousal support.
At the time you petition, you can make a simultaneous request for temporary orders, to be determined at a hearing about two weeks later. You can also make a request for immediate relief, though that requires an emergency and is rare.
To request temporary orders, you’ll generally need the following additional documents: 1) a motion for temporary orders, 2) a proposed temporary order, 3) your declaration (can be combined with the motion in onto one document), 4) supporting declarations, if any, 5) a calendar note setting the hearing, 6) your financial declaration, and 7) financial source documents filed under a sealed financial source document cover sheet. Financial source documents typically consist of your last two tax returns (with W2s) and this year’s paystubs.
Temporary orders are optional, and you might not need them in your case. If you DO need them, it makes sense to make the request soon as you’re able. Either party can file a motion for temporary orders, and the moving party (the party who makes the request) receives a procedural advantage.
Our firm has separate articles with more guidance on temporary and emergency/immediate orders. You’ll need to download the calendar note from the website for the county you’re filing in. Otherwise all the forms are on the Washington State Court Forms Website under family law > divorce > temporary order or restraining order. If you’re filing for temporary or emergency/immediate orders, you should also speak with the county’s family law facilitator’s office to ensure you’re complying with local rules. Local rules for motions usually vary from county to county.
V. Filing and Serving the Documents
1. Originals for the Court File. You’ll need to file all the above-mentioned documents with the clerk’s office of county where you’re petitioning for divorce. As mentioned above, you can petition for divorce in the county where either party lives (or in a different county if by agreement).
2. Copies for the Opposing Party. You should have copies of all the documents served on your spouse. The exceptions are the case cover sheet, confidential information form, and health department form, which only need to be filed with the court.
In this context, serving the documents almost always means having an adult other than you hand the documents directly to the other party. You can also have your process take the documents to the other side’s residence and hand deliver them to someone of “suitable age and discretion” who lives there. Suitable age and discretion generally means an adult of sound mind. If the opposing party or recipient declines to take the documents, the process server can drop them and walk away.
A friend or acquaintance can serve the documents. In Washington you don’t need to hire a registered process server or policeman like in some other jurisdictions.
Whoever serves the documents should complete Proof of Personal Service for filing with the court. You can download the template for Proof of Personal Service on the Washington State Court Forms Website under family law > divorce.
We have a separate article on how to serve documents in a Washington State divorce, including what to do if you have difficulty effecting service upon the other party.
3. Copies for the State Prosecutor’s Office. If you have children and anyone in your nuclear family receives state financial assistance, you should serve the state. Serving the state means giving the state prosecutor’s office copies of all documents you served on the opposing party. The state prosecutor probably has an office in or near the county courthouse. This enables the state to participate in the formulation of the child support order.
4. Working Copies. If you’re requesting temporary orders, you should provide copies of the following documents as working copies for the judge or commissioner deciding the motion: all the document you drafted for the motion (see section III above), your proposed parenting plan (if any), your proposed child support worksheets, your proposed child support order, your financial declaration, and your financial source documents (with cover sheet). Again, the proposed child support order isn’t required in every county, but better to be safe than sorry.
5. Copies for Yourself. Keep copies of all documents for yourself.
That’s it! We hope you found this article useful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information available for free on the internet. For more free articles, guides, and videos, we encourage you to visit our website’s resources page.
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