This section has basic information about divorce laws in Washington. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.
- What are the residency requirements for divorce in Washington?
- What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?
- Can I get alimony?
- What are the basic steps to get a divorce?
- Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?
- Where can I find additional information about divorce in Washington?
What are the residency requirements for divorce in Washington?
You can file for divorce in Washington if you are:
- a resident of Washington;
- married to a resident of Washington;
- a member of the military stationed in Washington; or
- married or in a domestic partnership with a member of the military stationed in Washington.1
Note: The divorce cannot actually be granted until 90 days have passed since you filed for divorce and since your spouse was served with legal notice that you filed for divorce.1
1 R.C.W. § 26.09.030
What are the grounds for divorce in Washington?
Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. You can get a divorce in Washington if the judge finds your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”1
If you and your spouse agree that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” a judge can grant you a divorce after:
- 90 days have passed since you filed for divorce; and
- 90 days have passed since your spouse was served with legal notice that you filed for divorce.1
If you or your spouse disagree that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” the judge will consider all of the relevant factors, including the reason one of you filed for divorce and the possibility that you may get back together, and will take one of the following actions:
- The judge will decide the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and give you the divorce; or
- If either you or your spouse asks for this, or if the judge decides to do so on his/her own, the judge will:
- transfer the case to family court;
- refer you both to a counseling service of your choice; and
- ask for the counseling service to report back within sixty days, or hold a hearing within sixty days.
The judge will then decide that either:
- you and your spouse have agreed to get back together and dismiss the divorce case; or
- you and your spouse have not gotten back together and that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” In this case, the judge will grant the divorce.1
Note: Another reason that the judge could dismiss a divorce petition is if you or your spouse claim, and the judge believes, that the person who filed for the divorce was convinced to file by fraud or coercion.1
1 R.C.W. § 26.09.030
Can I get alimony?
Alimony, also called maintenance, is financial support paid by, or to, your spouse. A judge can give you maintenance as part of a case for annulment, legal separation, or divorce. The judge can order temporary maintenance while the court case is going on, as well as ordering maintenance to begin once the case ends.1
A judge will decide how much maintenance you will get and for how long you will get maintenance after considering the following factors:
- your financial resources, including the property you got in the divorce, your ability to independently meet your needs, and how much child support you may be getting;
- how much time you need to get the education or training you need to get a job that meets your skills, interests, lifestyle, and other circumstances;
- the way you and your spouse lived while married (“standard of living”);
- how long you were married;
- your age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations; and
- your spouse’s ability to meet his/her own needs and financial obligations while paying you maintenance.2
1 R.C.W. §§ 26.09.060; 26.09.090
2 R.C.W. § 26.09.090
What are the basic steps to get a divorce?
While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:
- First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
- Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
- Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
- Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side. In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce. If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out. Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway. (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
- Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues. The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce. Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.
Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?
Washington law recognizes that abusers often misuse court proceedings in order to control, harass, intimidate, coerce, and/or impoverish the abused partner.1 If you are the victim of “abusive litigation” by your current or former intimate partner, and the court has already determined that the abuser has committed domestic violence against you, you can ask the judge to issue an order restricting abusive litigation. To make this request, you could do any of the following:
- include it in the written answer that you file in response to a case;
- file a motion in an ongoing case; or
- file a motion at any point within five years after you got an order for protection against the abuser, even if it is expired.2
If, after a hearing, the judge believes that the litigation is abusive, the judge can dismiss any current motions or petitions and enter an order restricting future abusive litigation.3 The order will:
- make the abuser pay all costs of any abusive civil actions pending in the court;
- make the abuser pay you reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs of responding to the abusive litigation, including the cost of seeking the order restricting abusive litigation; and
- put restrictions in place against the abuser that would prevent any additional court filings for the next four to six years without first getting approval to file from a judge.4
1 R.C.W. § 26.51.010
2 R.C.W. § 26.51.030(1)
3 R.C.W. § 26.51.060(1), (2)
4 R.C.W. § 26.51.060(1), (2), (3)(a)
Where can I find additional information about divorce in Washington?
Northwest Justice Project has a lot of information concerning divorce, including:
- a lengthy brochure on ending your marriage or domestic partnership for couples with children and couples without children;
- the forms needed to file for divorce and instructions on how to use them.
The Washington State Supreme Court has a handbook on divorce, including information about residency requirements, alimony, division of property and debts, and much more.
WomensLaw.org is not associated with the above organizations and does not vouch for the accuracy of the information on their sites. We provide these links for your information only.
You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.