Ending Your Marriage or Domestic Partnership in Washington without Children: The Basics
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
- Section 1: Introduction
- Section 2: Should I file for dissolution or separation?
- Section 3: Where should I file my dissolution?
- Section 4: How long will a dissolution take?
- Section 5: I was Served with dissolution papers. What should I do?
- Section 6: What if I need a court order sooner than 90 days?
- Section 7: How does the court decide who gets the house (and other property) and who pays the debts?
- Section 8: Our Do-it-Yourself Family Law Packets
- Section 9: Words You May Need to Know
This publication should help you learn about the laws that apply when you want to end your marriage or your domestic partnership in Washington and you have no children. Generally, we call the court process "dissolution."
- Effective December 6, 2012, state law about marriage and marital dissolution also applies to marriages between same-sex couples. The Legal Voice's publication called Q & A: Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Washington has more information. See www.legalvoice.org.
We will give you an overview of the law and help you decide what type of case you need to file in court. This publication is for persons who want to file for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership (petitioner) and persons who have been served with dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership papers (respondent). 
You may also want to use one of our interactive online interview or do-it-yourself packets that have forms and instructions for filing or responding to a Petition for Dissolution. Also, check with your County Court Clerk or Family Law Facilitator (if your county has a facilitator) to see if your county has the packet you want. Local packets may be easier to use. They have required local forms and procedures. Visit www.washingtonlawhelp.org for a complete listing of our family law packets, or, if you are low-income, call the CLEAR hotline at 1-888-201-1014.
You should meet with a lawyer who specializes in family law before you file anything in court. If either you or the other party has a lot of money or property, or you have been married/partnered a long time or the other party is going to disagree with any part of what you are requesting, talk with a lawyer before using our do-it-yourself publications. You may have rights that you could lose if you do not present them properly in your dissolution case. Even if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to file your case, talk at least once to lawyer to get advice. If you are very low-income, and you live outside King County, call CLEAR.
What is a dissolution?
Dissolution is another word for divorce. It is a court action that you file to end your marriage. In Washington, we use the term marital dissolution instead of "divorce." The term also refers to the process you use to legally end your domestic partnership.
You may file for marital dissolution only if you are married. If you are in a domestic partnership, you file for dissolution of your partnership.
In most situations, if you are legally married according to the laws of the state or country where you were married, Washington will recognize your marriage as legal. Washington has "no-fault" dissolution. You do not need to prove that either party was "at fault" in order to get a dissolution. Only one party needs to prove that there are irreconcilable differences (you can no longer get along with each other).
What relief may I get in a dissolution?
The main purpose of a marital dissolution is to legally end your marriage or domestic partnership. In general, as part of a marital dissolution, the court may also divide your property and debts, award maintenance (also known as alimony) to one party, enter orders restricting one spouse's contact with the other party and change the name(s) of the parties. 
In some cases, the court has the power to end your marriage or domestic partnership, but cannot grant other relief that you might want. Whether the court will give you the relief that you want depends upon whether the court has jurisdiction over the responding party. If Washington does not have jurisdiction over the other party, you may still file a marital dissolution in Washington. But there will be limits on what the court has the power to order in the dissolution. We explain more below.
How is dissolution different from a legal separation?
In a legal separation, the court may grant all of the relief that is available in dissolution, but the court does not actually end the marriage or domestic partnership. The married couple is not divorced at the end. The partnership is not dissolved.
Sometimes persons will choose to file for a legal separation instead of dissolution because they do not want to end the marriage or domestic partnership, but they want the other relief (such as property and debt division) that is available through legal separation. Example: where a person's religious beliefs discourage him from filing for dissolution.
We have no publication that tells you how to file a petition for legal separation. The procedures are very alike and use many of the same forms. For more information on how to file a petition for legal separation, check with your local Family Law Facilitator (if your county has one) or court clerk.
If you are thinking about filing for legal separation:
You do not need to file a petition for legal separation before filing for dissolution.
To make sure that you are not responsible for debts the other party may create after one of you moves out of the house, file for dissolution and a motion for temporary orders.
If you file a petition for legal separation, but the other party files a counter-petition asking for a marital dissolution, the court will probably enter a marital dissolution. Only one party must show that there are irreconcilable differences between the parties in order to get a dissolution.
If you file for legal separation, but you later change your mind and want a dissolution, you will need to file and serve a new petition for dissolution (unless your spouse has cross-petitioned for a dissolution).
If the court enters a legal separation decree, the legal separation can be easily changed to a marital dissolution. Once the court enters a decree of legal separation, your spouse can turn it into a dissolution without your consent. Any time after six months have passed after entry of the decree of legal separation, either party may file a motion with the court to change the decree of legal separation to a decree of dissolution. The court must grant the request. All of the other parts of your legal separation orders (such as the parenting plan and order of child support) will not be affected and will stay in effect.
May I get an annulment instead of a dissolution?
There is no legal action called an "annulment" in Washington. There is a little-used action called a petition for a declaration of invalidity. This is like an annulment. It declares that the marriage or domestic partnership was void (could not legally exist) from the day it started. There are very limited circumstances in which you can have your marriage or domestic partnership declared invalid. The court can declare a marriage or domestic partnership invalid if it decides that the parties should never have been married or registered because:
one or both parties were underage (under 17);
lack of required parental or court approval for persons under age 18;
one or both parties was already married when the marriage or domestic partnership took place;
the parties are too closely related by blood;
one party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage or domestic partnership (could not give consent), either because of mental incapacity or because of the influence of alcohol or drugs;
a party was induced to enter into the marriage or domestic partnership by force or duress, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage or domestic partnership.
Even if the court finds one of those factors, it will still declare the marriage or domestic partnership valid unless the petitioner also proves that the parties have not "ratified" their marriage or domestic partnership (showed that they wanted to continue the marriage or domestic partnership) by voluntarily continuing to live together as spouses or registered domestic partners after turning 18, or after having the ability to consent, or after the force or duress stopped or the fraud was discovered. Only the party who was the victim of force or fraud can petition for a declaration of invalidity.
- If you would like to file a petition for a declaration of invalidity, or if you have been served with such a petition, talk with a lawyer.
May I file for dissolution in Washington?
You and the other party do not both have to live in Washington in order for you to be able to file for dissolution in Washington.
You may file for dissolution of your marriage or domestic partnership in Washington IF:
- You live in Washington; OR
- The other party lives in Washington; OR
- You are a member of the armed forces stationed in Washington; OR
- The other party is a member of the armed forces stationed in Washington
- the other party will continue to be stationed in Washington for at least ninety (90) days following the date that you file and serve the marital dissolution.
What If one party has never lived in Washington?
In order for the Washington court to make certain types of orders, Washington must have personal jurisdiction over the responding party (the one who did not file the dissolution). Washington generally will have jurisdiction over the respondent if:
- The respondent lives in Washington
- The respondent lived in Washington at some point during your marriage or domestic partnership
- One of your children was conceived in Washington
- You (the petitioner) have continued to live, or be stationed in the armed forces, in Washington
If you are the responding party and you have never lived in Washington, Washington will not have personal jurisdiction over you unless you do something to give Washington jurisdiction over you. If Washington does not have personal jurisdiction over the responding party, the Washington court cannot order that party to pay maintenance or any debts, or divide any property that is not physically in Washington.
The petitioning party may still be able to get a dissolution even if property issues will not be heard because of lack of personal jurisdiction over the responding party.
- If you believe that Washington lacks jurisdiction over you, you must make that claim in writing to the court before you file anything else (such as a response) with the court in Washington. If you do not challenge jurisdiction right away, you can waive (give up) your right to say that Washington does not have jurisdiction over you.
You may agree to Washington having jurisdiction over you if you want to.
What if I cannot find the other party?
If you cannot find the other party, you may still be able to file for dissolution and serve the other party by publication. If you serve the other party by publication, you may ask the court to end your marriage or domestic partnership and divide any property and debts that are located in Washington.
Think carefully before relying on service by publication. If you serve the other party by publication, you must follow the rules for service very carefully. If you do not, your court orders could be set aside, even years later. Service by publication does not give the court personal jurisdiction over the other party unless you can prove that the other party is hiding either inside or outside Washington to avoid being served or to avoid paying debts. If the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the other party, you will not be able to ask the court to order maintenance or enter restraining orders.
What if the other party is a Native American who lives on an Indian reservation?
If the other party is a Native American who is living on reservation land (even if it is not the other party's tribe of origin), you may have to file your dissolution in tribal court. Talk to a lawyer with expertise in Indian law to find out where to file.
What should I do if I have been served with a dissolution and I do not think my case should be in Washington?
If you think that the Washington court should not have jurisdiction over you, over the property, and/or over the marriage or domestic partnership, you must argue about jurisdiction BEFORE you file anything else in the case. Get advice from a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, be very careful not to do anything that could give Washington jurisdiction over you, such as filing a response, signing agreed orders, or asking the court to grant relief to you (other than dismissing the case).
If you do not tell the court that you do not think Washington has personal jurisdiction over you right at the beginning, you will probably lose your chance to object. If possible, write to the court before you have a hearing. Tell the court why you believe that Washington does not have jurisdiction over you. You may also file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. For more information on filing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, talk with a lawyer or see your Family Law Facilitator.
If you already have a hearing scheduled, and you cannot write to the court before the hearing, go to the hearing in person (or you may be able to take part in the hearing by phone if you call the court to arrange it in advance). Tell the judge why you think there is no jurisdiction over your case. If the judge decides in your favor, then the case should be dismissed to the extent that the Washington court has no jurisdiction over the case. If the judge does not rule in your favor, then you will need to be ready to respond to the dissolution in Washington.
- If you are going to a hearing to tell the judge that you do not think Washington has jurisdiction, you should still prepare a response to the motion or petition before the hearing. Do not file the response. Bring it with you to the hearing. If the judge decides that Washington has jurisdiction, ask the judge to read your response.
In which county should I file my dissolution?
You may file a petition for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership in the county where you live, or in the county where the respondent lives. If the case is filed in the county where one party lives, and the other party wants to move the case to the county where s/he lives, the court may (but does not have to) change venue. See our publication called "Filing a Motion for Change of Venue in a Family Law Case at www.washingtonlawhelp.org. Also, talk with the county Family Law Facilitator or court clerk to see if a local publication is available, or talk to a lawyer. (Low-income persons may call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014.)
- Some of the packets we refer to are titled for marital dissolution. The procedures and instructions are basically the same as for domestic partnership dissolution.
- Filing in a County Where Neither Party Lives: Some private services that prepare dissolution papers for a fee advise people to file their dissolution in a county in which neither party lives. One county in which non-residents commonly file dissolutions is Lincoln County. Think very carefully about whether to file in a county where neither you nor your partner lives. If one party files for dissolution in a county where neither party lives, the responding party has the legal right to move the case to the proper county and the court should grant a change of venue. It can just mean more paperwork and responding to motions for you.
There are practical problems with filing in a county where you do not live. If you need to make a motion in your case, or you end up having a trial, or you need to get copies of your court papers later, it may be hard if you have filed in a county far from where you live. If you want to modify the final court order at a later time, it will be even harder.
Also, if the other party does not file a response to your petition, you may have a hard time getting a default order against the other party. If you do get a default order, you may be ordered to pay the other party's attorney's fees and costs if the other party asks the court to vacate (cancel) the order later.
You should file for dissolution in the county where you live, or the county where the other party lives. If you cannot afford the dissolution filing fee in your county, make a motion to the court to ask that the fee be waived.
You must wait at least 90 days after you filed the petition for dissolution and you have served it on the other party before you may enter final orders. Dissolutions often take longer than 90 days. If the other party responds and does not agree with everything in your petition, the amount of time that will pass until your case is finished will depend on your county and how complicated your case is. In some counties, the court will give you the date for your trial at the beginning of the case. In most others, you will need to file a request that the court set a trial date after the other party has filed a response.
Read ALL the documents you receive very carefully.
Find out what county your case is in.
Look at the papers you received. The papers should say "Superior Court of the State of Washington, County of _______" at the top. Make sure your case was filed in the right county. See Section 3 above.
Find out whether you have been served with a Motion for Temporary Orders or Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause
If the papers you got include forms called a Summons, and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership, then you have a dissolution case. You will need one of the following packets: Responding to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriageor Responding to a Petition for Dissolution (Domestic Partnership).
If the papers you got include a Notice for Hearing or Note for Calendar Motion (or any other paper indicating that a court date has been scheduled) and a Motion and Declaration for Temporary Orders, then you have a Motion for Temporary Orders. You may receive both a Petition for Dissolution and a Motion for Temporary Orders. If you received a Motion for Temporary Orders, get our packet called Responding to Motions for Temporary or Emergency Orders in Dissolution Cases.
If the papers you got include an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause, then you have a Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause. You may receive both a Petition for Dissolution and a Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause. Get our packet called Responding to Motions for Temporary or Emergency Orders in Dissolution Cases.
- Some of the packets we refer to are titled for marital dissolution. The procedures and instructions are basically the same as for domestic partnership dissolution.
- An Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause is a court order which the other party got without providing notice to you. Be careful to obey the Ex Parte Restraining Order until your court hearing. At your hearing, the court will decide whether the Ex Parte Restraining Order will remain in effect.
You must respond on time!
When you are served with legal papers, you must take steps right away to figure out how to respond. In many cases, if you do not respond on time, the other party will automatically win what they are requesting. For a motion, you may have as few as four business days after you receive the papers to file your response. It may take time to locate legal resources, and to read through this packet. You should do so as soon as possible after you get the papers. If you cannot respond in time, you will need to file a Notice of Appearance and ask for a continuance. (See below.)
Talk with a lawyer.
Even if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to file your case, you should talk at least once with one to get advice about your situation. If you are very low income and you do not live in King County, call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014. King County residents may call the King County Bar Association for referrals to low or no-cost legal advice clinics for family law cases.
Get the do-it-yourself packets that you need.
See Section 8 below.
You may want the court to enter orders before you get your final dissolution decree and other orders. Those are temporary orders. They are court orders that are entered very quickly and last until trial or the end of your dissolution case.
Example: you might want to get a court order before trial to make it clear that you are not responsible for debts that the other party creates or that would keep the other party from cleaning out the bank accounts or selling things. You may do this through a Motion for Temporary Orders or, in an emergency, through a Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause.
What is a Temporary Order?
It is a court order that gives you certain rights and/or protections before your dissolution is finished. You may request a temporary order at any time between when you file your Summons and Petition for Dissolution and the day your dissolution is final. To get a temporary order, you must file a Motion for Temporary Orders and give the other party notice and a chance to respond to your motion. You will have a hearing within about one to three weeks. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant what you asked for in your motion. The amount of notice you must give the other party before a hearing varies from county to county. Check with the court clerk or Family Law Facilitator for information about your county's notice requirements.
Do I need a Temporary Order?
It depends. Ask yourself:
Are you happy with the way things are going right now without the temporary order? Do you need to ask the court for help to order the other party to do something (or to stop doing something)?
You may ask the court to order many types of things in a temporary order, including:
Restraining orders that order one party not to harass or come near the other one;
Restraining orders that order the other party not to give away or sell property, or take out loans in both your names, or take your name off insurance policies;
Orders for maintenance, attorney's fees, or use of your property, such as the house or car;
Order that one party can live in the house and the other cannot.
Do I need an Emergency Order?
If there is an emergency, you may need protection from the courts right away. An Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause takes effect right away. It is often entered without any prior notice to the other party. (The other party will later have a chance to have a hearing at which the judge will decide whether the order will continue.) You may need an emergency order if you cannot wait one to three weeks for a hearing to get help from the court. This happens, for example, when the other party is harassing or harming you, or is taking large amounts of money out of your accounts or is selling or hiding property. If you file a Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order, you do not need to file a Motion for Temporary Orders since the same types of orders are available.
What if I want to change my Temporary Order?
Unlike a final Decree of Dissolution, a Temporary Order may be changed at any time before your dissolution is final. To change a temporary order, you will need to file another Motion for Temporary Orders.
What if the other party has hurt me?
If you are afraid that the other party may hurt or threaten you, the court can issue special orders to help protect you from harm. If you have been a victim of domestic violence, or have been threatened with injury, consider asking the court to award you a Domestic Violence Protection Order. You can do this before or after you file for dissolution. You may also ask that a permanent protection order be entered as part of the final orders in the dissolution.
A Domestic Violence Protection Order can:
Keep a person out of the family home and away from your home, work or school;
Order a person not to threaten, assault, harass or stalk another; and
Order a person to go to treatment for domestic violence and/or alcohol/drug treatment.
For more information about getting a Protection Order, contact your court's protection order advocates, your local domestic violence program, or call the 24-hour statewide domestic violence hotline at 1-800-562-6025.
Section 7: How does the court decide who gets the house (and other property) and who pays the debts?
In a dissolution, each party must tell the court about all of his/her property and debts – separate and community. The court must divide all of the parties' property and debts in the Decree of Dissolution.
Washington is a community property state. Generally, in Washington, all property that either party gets during the marriage or domestic partnership is community property and belongs to both parties. If property, such as a house, other real estate or a car, is purchased during the marriage or domestic partnership, the property is probably community property even if only one party is on the title. Each party's earnings, any pension benefits accrued, and any 401(k) contributions made during the marriage or domestic partnership are community property.
- Community law rights of domestic partners only apply from the date of registration of partnership or June 12, 2008, whichever comes later. If you and your partner were involved in a marriage-like relationship before June 12, 2008, or the registration of your partnership, and you acquired property together during that time, see a lawyer with expertise in community property issues.
- Federal Law, Pensions and Your Community Property Rights: Because of the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal laws, we cannot advise on the issue of one party's pension as community property if you are in a same-sex marriage or same-sex domestic partnership. See a family law attorney with expertise in community property issues.
Separate property belongs to only one spouse or partner. Generally it is property that the party got before the marriage or domestic partnership, or which was given to that person by inheritance or gift (whether before or during the marriage or domestic partnership), or which the party got after separation. (If you lived together in a stable relationship before your marriage or domestic partnership, the property and earnings that you had during the time that you lived together may also be considered community property.) 
Generally, all debts created by either party during the marriage or domestic partnership are community debts. Both parties are equally responsible for paying. Separate debts are those that are made before the marriage or domestic partnership or after the date of separation.
The law on community and separate property in marital dissolutions can be very complicated. We cannot provide all of the information you might want about property and debts in this publication. This section will try to give general answers to frequently asked questions about property and debts. Talk to a lawyer for more information.
Will the court divide all of our property and debts 50/50?
The court does not have to award one party's separate property to that party, or to divide the community property 50/50. The court can make any division of property and debts that is just and equitable, after considering:
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/partner at the time the division of property is to become effective.
How does the court decide what is a just and equitable division of property and debts?
How much property the court awards to each party, and who is ordered to pay what debts, will depend on a number of factors.
The main factor that a court will consider is in what type of financial condition the division of property and debts will leave each party in after dissolution. The court generally will not want to leave one party extremely wealthy and the other poor. The court will consider issues such as each party's age, health, education, and prospects for employment.
Example: in a long-term marriage or domestic partnership in which one party has not worked much outside the home, the court is more likely to award that party more of the community property (or long-term maintenance) to make sure that party does not end up much poorer than the other party.
Another example: if one party is disabled and will not be able to work, the court may award the disabled party more of the community property.
Another: the court may consider which party will be able to afford to pay the debts after dissolution when deciding who must pay them.
In most cases, the court will award each party his/her separate property and order each party to pay his/her separate debts. The court will award one party's separate property or separate debts to the other only in very unusual circumstances.
What if I have a Prenuptial Contract, Domestic Partnership Agreement or Community Property Agreement?
Some people sign a written agreement before they marry or become domestic partners that states how they will divide their property and debts in the event of dissolution. This is often called a prenuptial agreement.
Other people sign an agreement during the marriage or domestic partnership regarding their property, which states what property is community and what is separate. This is known as a Community Property Agreement.
These are sometimes completed as part of an estate plan. Still others may sign an agreement after they separate that divides property and debts. This agreement is known as a Property Settlement Agreement or Separation Contract.
If you believe that you have any type of written agreement regarding your property and debts, get a copy of it. Have a lawyer review it. This type of contract or agreement may (but does not always) determine how the court will divide property and debts in your case.
I bought our car and most other property with my income. Should the court award the car and other property to me?
It depends. If your car and other property were purchased with money you earned during the marriage or domestic partnership, it is community property. Each party's income during the marriage or domestic partnership is community property. Anything that you buy with either spouse/partner's income belongs to both of you. It does not matter whose paycheck was used. The court will divide the car and other property according to what it decides is just and equitable overall.
My Spouse/Partner owned our house before our marriage/domestic partnership. We both paid the mortgage. Should I get part of the house?
Maybe. The court may award you an interest in the house (also called an equitable lien), depending upon a number of factors. Because the other party bought the house before your marriage or domestic partnership, the house is the other party's separate property. The house stays separate, even after you marry or become domestic partners (unless the house is given as a gift to the community, such as could happen if it is refinanced in both parties' names). You may be entitled to an interest in the increase in any value due to improvements (such as a remodel or new deck) to the house, plus the community payments toward the mortgage. Your community interest would be reduced by the reasonable rental value of the house because you had the benefit of living there during the marriage or domestic partnership. In some cases, the court could rule that you have no community interest in the house because your community contributions were offset by the value you got from living there.
This issue is complicated. Talk to a lawyer.
What should we do with our home?
Take a careful look at the value of the home, what you still owe on the home, and the respective post-dissolution incomes of the parties. Example: can one person alone pay the mortgage? If not, awarding the property to one of you may eventually lead to foreclosure and all the related negative effects to your credit. In that case, selling the property (liquidation) might be the safest solution.
Title and ownership can differ from whose name is on the mortgage account. This can cause problems. Example: a court could award a wife title to the home in the dissolution, but unless someone takes specific action, the husband's name could stay on the mortgage. If the wife later falls behind on payments, it can be very hard to deal with the lender to get a modification with the husband's name still on the mortgage. Use caution in creating a post-dissolution situation in which title is in one name, but the debt remains in another. One way to do this is to refinance the property in the wife's name (in this example) at/near the time of the dissolution, while the account is current.
These are important, and sometimes complex, considerations, especially if there are multiple liens on the home. Talk to a lawyer with experience in these matters.
I think we need to sell our house. The other party disagrees. Can the court order us to sell the house?
Yes. The court has the power to order that your house should be sold even if one party objects. The court is most likely to do this if it is necessary to enable the court to divide the property equitably, or if the parties are behind on payments.
Is it true that I have no right to my spouse's pension because he earned it?
- Federal Law, Pensions and Your Community Property Rights: Because of the Defense of Marriage Act and other federal laws, we are unable to advise on the issue of one partner's pension as community property if you are in a same-sex marriage or domestic partnership. See a lawyer with expertise in community property issues.
It depends. Retirement or pension benefits, including 401(k) plans that are earned during the marriage, are community property in which both spouses have a legal interest. If a pension was earned both before and during the marriage, the portion of the pension earned during the marriage (and the increase in value of that portion) is community property. Some disability benefits that substitute for pension benefits may also be community property in which both spouses have an interest.
If you believe that your spouse has a pension (including a military pension), 401(k), IRA, or other retirement or disability plan, talk with a lawyer about what rights you may have to the pension. You may be able to get an order entered, called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), under which your spouse's pension plan will pay benefits directly to you after your spouse retires. The Pension Rights Center publishes a very good book called Your Pension Rights at Divorce: What Women Need to Know. Call them at (202) 296-3776. (This book is not free.)
The other party had an affair that caused our dissolution. Since the dissolution is the other party's fault, should the court give me more of the property?
No. Washington has "no fault" dissolution. The court may not consider which party "caused" the dissolution when deciding how to divide the property. The court may consider the conduct of the other party if s/he wasted assets from the marriage or domestic partnership without the other party's consent, or if that party tried to hide assets from the court.
I am not working right now. Will the court order the other party to pay me alimony?
Maybe. Maintenance, or alimony, is a payment that one spouse/partner makes to the other to provide financial support. The court will not automatically award maintenance to either party. The court looks at several factors in deciding whether you should get maintenance, including:
length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
financial situation of both parties given the division of property and debts, and the other party's ability to pay maintenance;
time it will take for the party asking for maintenance to get education or training;
standard of living during the marriage or domestic partnership; and
age and health of the party asking for maintenance.
If you have been unemployed for a long time (example: because you stayed home to care for the children), the court may be more likely to award you maintenance than if you have been laid off temporarily. On the other hand, even if the party seeking maintenance is capable of working (or is working to support him/herself), the court may still award maintenance to that party if awarding maintenance will help that party enjoy the standard of living that was usual during the marriage or domestic partnership. The court uses maintenance "not just as a means of providing bare necessities, but rather a flexible tool by which the parties' standard of living may be equalized for an appropriate period of time."
You are more likely to get long-term or permanent maintenance after a long marriage or domestic partnership and if you are disabled and/or stayed home to care for the children while the other worked and you are therefore less likely to be able to get a well-paying job. Unless the Decree of Dissolution states otherwise, maintenance payments end when the person receiving the payments remarries, registers a new domestic partnership, or dies. This is another complicated issue. Talk to a lawyer.
Important Information about Community Debts
You may end up paying a debt even if the other party was ordered to pay it. As part of the final Decree of Dissolution, the court will order one or both parties to pay any debts that the parties owe. This includes your mortgage, any car loans, credit card debts, utility bills, back taxes, etc. Even if the court orders the other party to pay a particular debt, the creditor (person to whom the debt is owed) may still come after you to collect any community debts. You will not be able to stop the creditor from collecting from you by telling that person that the other party is supposed to pay.
If the other party fails to pay the debt and you end up paying it, you will need to sue the other party in court to force him/her to pay you back. If you think that this might be a problem, check the "hold harmless" provision in the Decree of Dissolution form (paragraph 3.6, second box). Then, if you must sue the other party to force him/her to reimburse you for debts you paid, s/he will have to pay your attorney's fees and costs as well.
The other party may try to avoid paying community debts by filing for bankruptcy. If the other party files for bankruptcy after your Decree of Dissolution is entered, the bankruptcy court may relieve the other party of paying for those debts. If the other party files for bankruptcy, you should get notice of it. Talk immediately with a bankruptcy lawyer about your rights. You may need to take part in the bankruptcy case in order to protect yourself.
Use our interactive online interviews for filing and finishing your dissolution of marriage with no children. This is an online question-and-answer interview that produces filled-out court forms and step-by-step instructions for simple, uncontested cases that do not need temporary orders.
Hire a lawyer to represent you. If you can afford to, it is best to consult one about your particular case and consider hiring the lawyer to file for dissolution for you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your local legal services office to see if a lawyer can represent you or give you advice to help you represent yourself. Some legal services offices and county bar and pro bono programs represent people in dissolutions. They usually are able to directly represent very few of the many people who apply for help. If you are low-income and live outside King County, call CLEAR for a referral at 1-888-201-1014. If you are low-income and live in King County, call the King County Bar Association at (206) 623-2551 and ask for a referral for low-income representation in family law.
- Take a "Self-Help" class. Some counties have "self-help" classes that teach you how to file your own dissolution. A class may cost more than this packet, but may provide you with more help filling out the forms and with local court procedures. If you can go to a class, do so. To find out whether your county has a self-help class, contact your local Family Law Facilitator (if there is one in your county).
- Where available, use the local Family Law Facilitator's Do-It-Yourself packets. Some counties have Family Law Facilitators who can help you file your own dissolution action in court. They often have do-it-yourself packets designed for that county. The facilitators are not lawyers. They cannot give you legal advice.
What packets do I need to file for dissolution?
We publish several different do-it-yourself packets. These will give you instructions and forms for completing a marital dissolution. The following list should help you decide which packets you will need. You will need more than one packet to finish an entire marital dissolution case. You should get only the packets you need at the time that you need them.
Filing a Motion for Waiver of Your Filing Fee – Use this packet if you want to file for dissolution but cannot afford to pay the filing fee (usually $200-250). This packet helps you ask the court to waive (forgive) the fee.
Service by Certified Mail or Publication – Use this packet if you are filing for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership and you have been unable to serve the other party in person. This packet helps you ask the court for permission to serve the other party by certified mail or publication.
Responding to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Responding to a Dissolution of Domestic Partnership – Use one of these packets to respond to a dissolution case if the other party has already filed one.
Filing a Motion for Temporary Orders for Dissolution Cases and Custody/Parenting Plan Modifications of Dissolution Cases – Use this packet to ask the court to enter an order that will cover the time period between the date you file for dissolution and the date your dissolution is final.
- Some of the packets we refer to are titled for marital dissolution. The procedures and instructions are basically the same as for domestic partnership dissolution.
Filing a Motion for Emergency Orders for Dissolution Cases and Custody/Parenting Plan Modifications of Dissolution Cases – Use this packet to ask the court to enter an order that will take effect immediately and can cover the time period between the date you file for dissolution and the date your dissolution is final. Use this packet if you need an emergency order.
Responding to a Motion for Temporary or Emergency Orders – Use this packet if the other party has filed a Motion for Temporary Orders or a Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause.
How to Write a Declaration– This packet will help you and your witnesses to write the most effective and persuasive statements in support of your motion.
Basic Tips on How to Prepare for a Court Hearing or Trial – This publication will help you organize your evidence and prepare your oral argument to present to the court in your hearing or trial.
How to Subpoena Witnesses or Documents – Use this packet if you need to make sure important witnesses or documents are at trial.
Finishing Your Dissolution of Marriage by Default or Finishing Your Dissolution of Domestic Partnership by Default – Use the appropriate packet when you are ready to finish your dissolution and one party has not responded.
Finishing Your Dissolution of Marriage without Children by Agreement or Finishing Your Dissolution of Domestic Partnership without Children by Agreement – This packet will help you fill out and file the forms and papers that you need to complete a dissolution case when you and the other party have an agreement (or settlement).
Dismissing Your Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership – Use this packet if you decide that you do not want to end your marriage or domestic partnership after all.
Other: Local Do-it-Yourself packets: In some counties, you may need other forms or packets during your dissolution case that are required by local court rules. Check with your court clerk's office or Family Law Facilitator (if your county has one). The Legal Voice (206-621-7691 or www.legalvoice.org) has a do-it-yourself packet about following the case management schedule for dissolutions filed in King County. It also has publications on other dissolution issues, such as Community Debt and Mediation.
I Have More Questions about the Law. Where Do I Get More Information?
We have other publications and packets on our website, http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org and links to help you do legal research. These may help if you want more information about dissolution. If you need more information, or do not have internet access, visit your local law library (usually located in your county's Superior Court building). The library staff may be able to help you find the resources you need.
Affidavit - A statement made under oath and notarized by a Notary Public. Affidavits are no longer required in Washington. Instead the courts use Declarations (see below).
Appearance - Letting the court and all other parties know where you can be contacted and your desire to participate in your case. You can "appear" either in person at a Court hearing or in writing by filling out a Notice of Appearance or Response.
Attorney of Record – A lawyer who has filed either a Notice of Appearance or any court papers in the case, and who has not later filed a court paper called Notice of Intent to Withdraw.
Bailiff - The person in charge of courtroom procedure and security. Sometimes the same person as the clerk.
Beneficiary - A person who receives benefits or advantages. (Example: money from an insurance policy.)
Calendar - The court's schedule of cases to be heard. Also called a Docket.
Caption - The heading of each legal document that has the name of the court, the names of the parties, the case number, and the name of the document itself.
Certified Copy - A copy of a document from the court file made by the court clerk that has an official stamp on it. Usually there is a fee for a certified copy.
Clerk of the Court - An officer of the court who handles clerical matters like keeping records, entering judgments and providing certified copies.
Commissioner (Court Commissioner) - Like a judge, but only makes decisions relating to a particular subject matter. Many counties have family law commissioners who hear and decide only family law cases (dissolutions, and so on).
Conformed Copy - A copy of any court document that has been filed. It must be stamped with the date filed. If the document is an order, it must have the name of the judge/court commissioner who signed it either written or stamped on it.
Community Property - The property you and your spouse/partner or domestic partner acquired during your marriage or domestic partnership. (See Separate Property) This includes wages, pensions and other benefits from employment during your marriage or domestic partnership.
Continuance - Postponing your court hearing to a later date.
Court - The judicial branch of government that has the purpose of applying the laws to disputes brought before it. When this packet refers to "the court," that means you will be talking to the judge or commissioner who represents the court.
Declaration - A written statement made to the court that the signer declares or certifies under penalty of perjury is true.
Decree - The final court order in your dissolution.
Default - The failure to respond to court papers within the required time.
Default Order - An order that can be obtained if the responding person does not respond within the required time.
Dissolution - The legal word for divorce or for terminating your domestic partnership.
Ex Parte - Going before the court without notifying the other party.
Filing - Giving court papers to the court clerk to place in the official case file.
Hearing - Going before a judge or court commissioner in person to request a court order.
In Re the Domestic Partnership Of: - The heading of all your court papers if you are in a domestic partnership. It tells the court that the type of your court action relates to your domestic partnership.
In Re the Marriage Of: - The heading of all your court papers if you are married and filing for dissolution (divorce). It tells the court that the type of your court action relates to your marriage.
Irretrievably Broken - The basis for getting a dissolution. It means that you cannot successfully continue your marriage or domestic partnership; that your marriage or domestic partnership has broken down.
Jurisdiction - The court's authority to make decisions regarding certain people and issues. If a court does not have jurisdiction it cannot make orders.
Joinder - Both parties ask the court together to dissolve their marriage or domestic partnership, divide the property and make arrangements for the children, if any.
Maintenance/Spousal Support - A fixed amount of money paid from one party to another for support. Sometimes called "alimony."
Motion - A request made to the court for an order.
Motion Docket - The court's schedule of motions to be heard.
Note/Notice of Hearing - A written request to the clerk to schedule your case for a hearing.
Notice of Appearance - A paper filed with the court showing that you want to participate in the case and where to send you papers filed in the future.
Order - A court document signed by a judge or commissioner that requires someone to do or not to do something.
Order to Show Cause - A court order requiring you to appear in person at a time set by the court for a hearing.
Petition - A formal written request for dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership.
Petitioner - The party who files the dissolution case
Pro Se - Acting without the aid of a lawyer. Representing yourself.
Process - Written notification to appear in court. (See Summons and Order to Show Cause.)
Protection Order - a special court order to protect a party from domestic violence
Restraining Order - A court order to keep a party from doing some act that may harm the other party.
Response - A formal written answer to a petition filed with the court by the respondent.
Respondent - The party against whom the dissolution case is filed.
Ruling - A decision made by the court.
Separate Property - Property owned before marriage or domestic partnership or obtained during a marriage or domestic partnership as a result of a gift or inheritance made specifically to one spouse/party but not the other.
Service - Giving court papers to the other party by having them hand-delivered, sending it by certified mail or publishing in a newspaper.
Summons - A written notice that a dissolution case has been started with time limits for a response.
Temporary Order - An order entered after a case is filed and before it is finished which is only in effect while the case is going on.
Venue - The county where the case should be filed, usually the county where you live.
Waiver: Asking to be excused from something. When you file a motion for a fee waiver, you are asking the court for permission to not have to pay the fee.
1. Depending on which relationship you have, this process may also be called a "marital dissolution," "dissolution of marriage," "dissolution of partnership," or "dissolution of domestic partnership."
2. In this packet, you will see footnotes, like this one. These footnotes will tell you the law or court case that supports the statement that comes before the footnote. RCW stands for Revised Code of Washington, which is the law of Washington State. Court cases have names, such as In re Marriage of Parent. Use the footnotes to look up the law at your local law library, or to tell the court when you are trying to make a legal argument. The references to the law are up to date as of the date this packet is published. The law sometimes changes before the packet can be updated.
4. Washington does not recognize marriage by a person who already has another spouse who is living, or by persons who are close relatives. RCW 26.04.020.
5. RCW 26.09.050(1).
7. RCW 26.09.150.
11. RCW 26.09.030. If you live outside of Washington and you are filing a marital dissolution in Washington, your dissolution may not be recognized by other states if you do not make sure that your spouse/partner is a Washington resident or is stationed in Washington for at least 90 days after you file and serve your dissolution. Marriage of Ways, 85 Wn.2d 693, 702-03, 538 P.2d 1225 (1975). If you do not live in Washington and you want to divorce your spouse/partner who is in the military, get advice from a lawyer.
12. RCW 4.28.185(1).
15. 25 USCA §1322; RCW 37.12.010.
16. Civil Rule (CR) 12(b), (g), (h); Sherrer v. Sherrer, 334 U.S. 343, 92 L. Ed. 1429, 68 S. Ct. 1087 (1948).
17. RCW 26.09.010(2).
18. RCW 4.12.030.
21. RCW 26.09.030.
22. You may file a Motion to Quash the Ex Parte Restraining Order before the hearing. It will probably be hard to do this without a lawyer. You may want to respond to the Motion for an Ex Parte Restraining Order/Order to Show Cause and wait for your scheduled hearing to let the court decide whether the restraints in the order should stay in effect. To file a motion to quash, talk with a lawyer.
23. RCW 26.09.060(10)(b).
24. Domestic violence refers to acts of violence or threats of harm by one spouse/partner toward the other spouse/partner or their children. RCW 26.50.010(1). If you or your children have been injured or threatened with bodily injury by your spouse/partner, you may be a victim of domestic violence.
25. RCW 26.16.030; Yesler v. Hochstetter, 4 Wn. 349, 30 P. 398 (1892).
27. RCW 26.60.080.
28. Jacobs v. Hoitt, 119 Wn. 283, 205 P. 414 (1922); Walker v. Fowler, 155 Wn. 631, 285 P. 649 (1930); RCW 26.16.140.
29. See, In re Marriage of Lindsey, 101 Wn.2d 299, 678 P.2d 328 (1984); In re Marriage of DeHollander, 53 Wn. App. 695, 770 P.2d 638 (1989); but see, In re Marriage of Pennington, 142 Wn.2d 592, 14 P.3d 764 (2000) (court determined that facts did not support a finding that a meretricious relationship existed). The court may also consider contributions you both made toward the other party's separate property while you were living together as community contributions. In re Marriage of Pearson-Maines, 70 Wn. App. 860, 855 P.2d 1210 (1993).
32. RCW 26.09.080.
34. If the marriage or domestic partnership is very short (less than five years), and there are no children, the court may decide to return the parties to the financial condition they had before the marriage or domestic partnership, even if that means that one party ends up much better off.
. 38. Matter of Marriage of Olivares, 69 Wn. App. 324, 848 P.2d 1281, review denied, 122 Wn.2d 1009, 863 P.2d 72 (1993).
40. See, for example, Marriage of Miracle, 101 Wn.2d 137, 675 P.2d 1229 (1984), declined to extend by In re Marriage of Marshall, 86 Wn. App. 878, 940 P.2d 283 (1997) (the court wouldn't extend an equitable lien on the separate property interest of either party).
44. See, for example,, In re Marriage of Nicholson, 17 Wn. App. 110, 561 P.2d 1116 (1977); but see, In re Marriage of Williams, 84 Wn. App. 263, 927 P.2d 679, review denied, 131 Wn.2d 1025, 937 P.2d 1102 (1996) (court held that wife's gambling debts, which were offset by her extra earnings, did not constitute wasting of marital assets).
48. RCW 26.09.170.
This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of April 2013.
© 2013Northwest Justice Project. 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and individuals for non-commercial use only.)