In Washington divorce is referred to as Dissolution of Marriage.

Residency Requirement:

Either party must be either a resident of Washington State; a member of the armed forces stationed in the state; or married to or in a domestic partnership with a party who is a resident of the state or who is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in the state.


Filing:

A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership may be filed in the superior court of the county where the Petitioner, filing spouse, resides.

If, after 90 days since service of summons was made upon the Respondent, other spouse, or the first publication of summons was made, and the Respondent either joins in the Petition or does not deny that the marriage or domestic partnership is irretrievably broken, the court may enter a decree of dissolution.

If the other party alleges that the Petitioner was induced to file the Petition by fraud or coercion, the court will consider the allegation and if it finds that it's true, will dismiss the Petition.

Spouse's Name: 

Upon the request of a party whose marriage or domestic partnership is dissolved or declared invalid, the court shall order a former name be restored or the court may, in its discretion, order a change to another name. 

 

Domestic Partnership

The Washington Legislature has determined that the public has an interest in providing a legal framework for certain mutually supportive relationships with another person to whom they are not legally married, which are intimate, committed and exclusive in nature, whether the partners are of the same or different sexes and irrespective of their sexual orientation.

The Legislature also finds that the public interest would be served by extending rights and benefits to different sex couples in which either or both of the partners is at least 62 years of age. These couples are entitled to marry under the state's marriage statutes; however some social security and pension rules make marriage impractical for these couples. Therefore couples are allowed to enter into a state registered domestic partnership if one of the partners is at least 62 years of age.

To enter into a state registered domestic partnership, the two parties must meet the following requirements:

  • Both parties share a common residence;
  • Both parties are at least 18 years of age;
  • Neither party is married to someone other than the party to the domestic partnership and neither party is in a domestic partnership with another person;
     
  • Both parties are capable of consenting to the domestic partnership;
  • The parties are not nearer of kin to each other than second cousins (whole or half);
  • Neither party is a sibling, child, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew to the other persons; and
  • Either both parties are members of the same sex, or at least one of the parties is 62 years of age or older.

State registered domestic partners shall be treated the same as married spouses. 

 

Legal Grounds for Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership

Washington only recognizes the no-fault grounds that the marriage or domestic partnership is irretrievably broken to file for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership.

If one of the parties denies that the union is irretrievably broken, the court shall then consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to the filing of the Petition and the prospects for reconciliation. 

If the court makes a finding that the marriage or domestic partnership is irretrievably broken it shall enter a decree of dissolution of the marriage or domestic partnership. If not, it may take the following steps:
 

  • At the request of either party, or on its own motion, transfer the case to a family court;
  • Refer the couple to another counseling service of their choice; and request a report back from the counseling service within sixty days for hearing; or
  • Continue the matter for not more than sixty days for hearing.

If the Family Court returns the case to the Superior court or at hearing, the court shall make either of the following findings:
 

  • Find that the parties have agreed to reconciliation and dismiss the petition; or
  • Find that the parties have not been reconciled, and that either party continues to allege that the marriage or domestic partnership is irretrievably broken and enter a decree of dissolution.

When considering a petition for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, a court may not use a party's pregnancy as the sole basis for denying or delaying the entry of a decree of dissolution, nor does the pregnancy of either party affect further proceedings. 

 

Declaring a Marriage or Domestic Partnership Invalid

Residency requirements to apply to have a marriage or domestic partnership declared invalid are the same as those for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership. A Petition for a Declaration Concerning the Validity of a Marriage or Domestic Partnership may be filed in the superior court of the county where the Petitionerresides.

Void Marriages:
 

  • Either party is under 17 years of age, unless permission has been obtained by a superior court judge of the county in which one of the parties resided on a showing of necessity.

Prohibited/Voidable Marriages, Domestic Partnerships:
 

  • Either party is under the age of consent without required parental or court approval;
  • Either or both parties is already married to or in a domestic partnership with another person;
  • The parties are nearer of kin to each other than second cousins, (either whole or half); or
  • Either party is a sibling, child, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew to the other person.
  • Either party is incapable of consenting to marriage or domestic partnership due to mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or other incapacitating substance; or
  • The consent of either party was obtained by force or duress, or fraud involving the essentials of marriage or domestic partnership.

If the court finds either of these grounds to be true, it may declare the marriage or domestic partnership invalid as of the date it was contracted if the parties have not ratified their marriage or domestic partnership by voluntarily cohabitating after attaining the age of consent; after attaining capacity to consent; after the force or duress has ended; or after discovery of the fraud.

Marriage or domestic partnerships between two persons that is recognized as valid in another jurisdiction is valid in Washington only if the marriage or domestic partnership is not prohibited or made unlawful by the state's statutes.

If the validity of a marriage or domestic partnership is denied or questioned at any time, either or both parties to the marriage or the domestic partnership may petition the court for a judicial determination of the validity of the marriage or domestic partnership. After hearing the evidence concerning the validity, if both parties to the alleged marriage or domestic partnership are still living and the court find it to be valid, the court shall enter a decree of validity. 
 

Property Division

Washington is a community property state. The court shall consider the following factors when deciding on the disposition of property and the liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable:
 

  • The nature and extent of the community property;
  • The nature and extent of the separate property;
  • The duration of the marriage or domestic partnership; and
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse or domestic partner at the time the division of property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right of a spouse for domestic partner with whom the children reside for the majority of the time, to live there for reasonable periods.

Property and pecuniary rights owned by a spouse before marriage and by a domestic partner before registration of the domestic partnership and acquired by him/her afterwards by gift, bequest, devise, descent, or inheritance, with the rents, issues and profits is considered separate property and shall not be subject to the debts or contracts of his/her spouse or domestic partner. 

Property acquired after marriage or after registration of a domestic partnership by either domestic partner or either spouse or both is community property. 

Neither person in a marriage or domestic partnership is liable for the debts or liabilities of the other incurred before marriage or domestic partnership, nor for the separate debts of each other. Nor is the rent or income of the separate property of either liable for the separate debts of the other. This is provided that the earnings and accumulations of the spouse or domestic partner shall be available to the legal process of creditors for the satisfaction of debts incurred by the spouse or domestic partner prior to the marriage or the domestic partnership.

Maintenance

When entering a decree of dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity, the court shall determine the marital or domestic partnership status of the parties and consider or approve provision for the maintenance of either spouse or either domestic partner.

The court shall consider the following factors when deciding whether to grant a maintenance order for either spouse or domestic partner, and if so, when deciding what amounts and for what periods of time:
 

  • The financial resources of the requesting party, including separate or community property awarded to him/her, and his/her ability to meet his/her needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for him/her;
  • The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his/her skill, interests, style of life and other relevant circumstances;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership;
  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
  • The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the requesting spouse or domestic partner; and
  • The ability of the paying spouse or domestic partner to meet his/her needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the requesting spouse or domestic partner.

Parenting Arrangements and Child Support

Parenting Arrangements:

The best interest of the child shall be the standard by which the court determines and allocates a parent's parental responsibilities in any proceeding between parents. State policy recognizes that the best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child's emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care. In addition, the court generally shows a preference for the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child, and will only alter the pattern to the extent necessary by the changed situation and relationship between the parents, or as required to protect the child from physical, mental or emotional harm.

Each parent must file a proposed permanent parenting plan with the following objectives:
 

  • Providing for the child(ren)'s physical care;
  • Maintaining the child(ren)'s emotional stability;
  • Providing for the child(ren)'s changing needs as the child(ren) grow and mature, in a way that minimizes the need for future modifications to the permanent parenting plan;
  • Setting forth the authority and responsibilities of each parent with respect to the child(ren), consistent with statutory criteria;
  • Minimizing the child(ren)'s exposure to harmful parental conflict;
  • Encouraging the parents to meet their responsibilities to their minor children through agreements in the plan, rather than by relying on judicial intervention; and
  • To otherwise protect the best interests of the child.

The parenting plan shall contain provisions for resolution of future disputes between the parents, allocation of decision-making authority, and residential provisions for the child(ren). When establishing the plan, the court may consider the cultural and religious beliefs of the child(ren).

The plan shall allocate decision-making authority to one or both parties regarding the children's education, health care, and religious upbringing. However, regardless of this allocation, either parent may make emergency decisions affecting the health or safety of the child. 

Each parent may make decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child while he/she is residing with the parent.

A residential schedule will also be included in the plan, designating in which parent's home each minor child shall reside on given days of the year, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions.

Parenting Plans and Abuse or Abandonment:

The permanent parenting plan shall not require mutual decision-making or designation of a dispute resolution process, other than court action, if it is found that a parent has engaged in any of the following conduct:
 

  • Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
  • Physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child;
  • A history of acts of domestic violence; or
  • An assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm.

The parent's residential time with the child shall be limited if it is found that the parent has engaged in any of the following conduct:
 

  • Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
  • Physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child;
  • A history of acts of domestic violence;
  • An assault or sexual assault which causes grievous bodily harm or the fear of such harm;
  • The parent has been convicted as an adult of a sex offense; or
  • The parent resides with a person who has engaged in the above-listed abusive conduct.

If a parent is determined to be a sexual predator the court shall restrain the parent from contact with his/her child. If the parent resides with an adult or juvenile who has been found to be a sexual predator, the court shall restrain the parent from contact with his/her child within that person's presence.

Child Support:

When entering a decree of dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership, legal separation, or declaration of invalidity, the court shall determine the marital or domestic partnership status of the parties and make provision for the support of any child of the marriage or domestic partnership entitled to support.

After considering all relevant factors, without regard to misconduct, the court shall order either or both parents owing a duty of support to any child of the marriage or domestic partnership dependent upon either or both spouses or domestic partners to pay an amount determined by Washington's statutory child support schedule.

Washington bases their statewide child support formula on the Income Shares Model. The formula is based on a table that uses the parents' combined monthly net income, with consideration to the number of children and their ages, either between 0 and 11 years, or 12 and 18 years. 

When the parents' combined monthly net income exceeds the table's maximum of $12,000, the court may exceed the presumptive amount of support set for that limit upon written findings of fact.

The administrative office of the courts shall develop and adopt worksheets and instructions to assist the parties and courts in establishing the appropriate child support level and apportionment of support.

When child support is court-ordered, the court shall require both parents to provide medical support for any child named in the order. Medical support consists of health insurance coverage and cash medical support.
 

Legal Separation

The spouses in a marriage or partners in a domestic partnership - upon separating or filing for dissolution of their marriage or domestic partnership, for a decree of legal separation, or for a declaration of invalidity of their union - may enter into a written Separation Contract providing for the maintenance of either of them, the disposition of their property, the parenting plan and support for their children, and for the release of each other from all obligations, except those spelled out in the contract.

The parties choosing to live separate and apart may opt not to obtain a court decree, and instead, record the Separation Contract and post notice in a legal newspaper in the county where the parties resided before their separation. This constitutes notice of the separation and the facts of the document to all persons. At any time, the parties may mutually agree to terminate the separation contract by filing a statement to that effect.

Alternatively, the parties may choose to obtain a decree of legal separation. A Petition for Legal Separation may be filed in the superior court of the county where the Petitioner resides.

If the Petitioner in a dissolution action requests the court to decree legal separation instead of dissolution, the court shall enter a decree of legal separation unless the other party objects and petitions for a decree of dissolution or declaration of invalidity. 

On motion of either party, but no sooner than six months after issuing a decree of legal separation, the court may convert the decree of legal separation to a decree of dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership.

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