You need a divorce… but where to start?

You’re splitting up. It happens – sometimes marriages are just no longer workable. It’s an emotional, stressful, and trying time and it’s hard to wrap your head around everything you need to do. Navigating the judicial system when you’re at your best can be difficult, never mind trying to do it when in the throes of ending your marriage.

So this post is here for all of you out there who just want a breakdown of what to do first.

All forms to start a dissolution can be found here.

The first thing you need is a Petition. This will state all the basic facts – birthdates, date of marriage, name of children, etc. It will ask you if you want child support and maintenance. (Maintenance is more commonly known as “alimony”). If you took your spouse’s last name at marriage, here’s where you can mark down if you want to change it back again.

It will ask about your property and your debts and how you want to divide them. Washington law requires a fair and equitable division of assets and debts. Washington is a community property state, which means everything you acquire once you are a married is community property and you both have an equal right to it. Anything that you had prior to marriage, or any gifts or inheritances, are considered separate property. The best thing for you to do is make a list of everything you and your spouse own, and all debts you have. Decide which ones are your separate property, and which ones are community. Then figure out the best way to divide all of these things up so that you both get an equitable share.

Along with the Petition, you need either a joinder or a summons. If you and your spouse are amicable and have decided together that you need a divorce, then you want a joinder. The last page of the Petition has a joinder and your spouse will write his/her name, and then sign it, saying that he/she agrees to everything that was written in the Petition.

If you are not in agreement about the divorce or the provisions in the Petition, then you need a Summons. This is a separate document (which can be found at the link above) that tells your spouse that you have filed for divorce, and that they have 20 days to respond to your Petition (60 days if they are out of the state).

It costs $290 to file for dissolution. You can file at the courthouse, or you can e-file online if you are in King County. If you e-file, you go here and make yourself a login, then start a new case and upload your documents.

Once you file, you will be given an 11-month case schedule. This gives you a trial date that is roughly 11 months from when you filed the papers. This does not mean you have to go to trial – but if you are unable to come to an agreement with your spouse before the trial date, then you will go before a judge. The case schedule will list lots of deadlines that you are required to follow.

If you do not have a joinder, you need to personally serve all these documents on your spouse. This service cannot be done by you – but it can be done by anyone who is over 18, competent, and not a party to the action. Once service has occurred, file a Return of Service with the court or online so that you can prove that the other party had notice of the action.

Then… you wait. It can be a very long process, and at minimum you will need to wait 90 days before you can finalize the divorce.

If you have kids, well, that opens a whole new can of worms. We’ll tackle parenting plans and divorcing with kids next time.