When you choose to go the do-it-yourself divorce route with an online divorce, it can be helpful to understand the basic divorce laws in Washington. Knowing what the laws are allows you to make informed decisions when you file for divorce and can help you avoid unnecessary mistakes when filing.
Important Divorce Laws in Washington
- Residency – Washington requires you to either be a resident of the state, that your spouse be a resident of the state or that you or your spouse be stationed in the state as a member of the armed forces. This is an important factor in your filing. If you do not meet these residency requirements you can expect the court to reject your filing.
- Grounds for filing a divorce – Washington only grants divorce when it finds that the marriage is “irretrievably broken”. There are many factors that can contribute to this irretrievably broken state and it may be necessary to prove this if one spouse denies the claim. In the case where one spouse denies this, the court will consider all relevant factors and make a decision on the state of the marriage. Relevant factors may include the situation that led one spouse to file for divorce and the possibility for reconciling the issues that led to the filing. It will then decide whether the divorce should go forward or if some effort like counseling should be made to repair the marriage.
- Legal separation – Washington divorce laws allow parties to a marriage to enter into a legal separation. This can allow them time to resolve disagreements while protecting property and looking out for the best interests of the children. This separation can take many different forms and, while similar in many ways to a divorce, allows the two to remain legally married.
- Mediation – The court can call for mediation between the two parties. Mediation is designed to bring each spouse to a middle ground where important issues concerning children, property and any contract between the two after marriage can be discussed. In situations where one or both spouses is resisting an amicable solution, mediation can be used to ease tensions and seek resolutions.
- Community property state – In Washington the debts and property acquired during a marriage are considered community property. This means this property is split equally unless a different agreement is made between both parties in the marriage or the court decides otherwise. What this means in practice is that the court – in absence of an agreement between spouses – will divide up property in a manner it determines is fair. If the court is left to make this decision it will take into consideration all relevant factors, including the length of the marriage, the specific property each spouse possesses independently and the property that is considered community and the circumstances of each spouse. Things like the future earning ability of each spouse, the assets possessed by each spouse, who will have custody of the children – all of these come into play when dividing property.
- Alimony – Washington divorce laws can award alimony to a spouse depending on various circumstances. The court does not take into consideration marital misconduct, but it does consider things like the financial resources of each party and the earning potential, education, and standard of living of the party seeking assistance. It will also consider the ability of the party paying alimony to meet his or her needs while also paying out support to the other party.
- Child custody – Ideally the parents will come to an agreement concerning child custody on their own. If not, the court will be left to decide the question of custody. Washington divorce laws are concerned with the best interests of the child or children. This means the court will focus on determining who is best suited to provide for the financial, emotional and physical needs of the child. It will also aim to disrupt the life of the child as little as possible.
- Child support – Divorce laws in Washington are designed around the “Income Shares” principle. This means that the court will take into consideration both parents' incomes to decide on child support. The court follows a specific formula to determine child support, but it is possible to adjust this amount depending on individual circumstances and the decision of the court.