Ending Your Marriage or Domestic Partnership in Washington without Children: The Basics

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded
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Section 1: Introduction

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 divorce if you are married or dissolution if you are domestic partners."[1]

*State law about marriage and divorce also applies to marriages between same-sex couples. The Legal Voice's publication called Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Washington has more information. See www.legalvoice.org.

We will give an overview of the law and help you decide what type of case you need to file in court.[2] This publication is for people who want to file for divorce or to end a domestic partnership (petitioner) and people who have been served with divorce or petition to end domestic partnership papers (respondent).[3]

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 Divorce. Also, ask the court clerk or family law facilitator (if your county has one) 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 divorce case. Even if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer to file your case, talk at least once to one for advice. If you are very low-income, and you live outside King County, call CLEAR.

Section 2: Should I file for dissolution or separation?

What is divorce?

It is a court action ending your marriage. You may file for divorce only if you are married. If you are in a domestic partnership, you file a petition to end 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.[4]   Washington has "no-fault" divorce. You do not have to prove either party was "at fault" to get a divorce. Only one party needs to prove there are irreconcilable differences(you can no longer get along).

What relief may I get in a divorce?

The main purpose of a divorce is to legally end your marriage. In general, as part of a divorce, 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 or with the children, and change the name(s) of the parties.[5]

In some situations, the court has the power to end your marriage/domestic partnership, but cannot grant other relief. It depends on whether the court has jurisdictionover the responding party. If Washington does not have jurisdiction over the other party, you may still file for divorce in Washington. There will be limits on what the court has the power to order. We explain more below.

How is divorce different from legal separation?

In a legal separation, the court may grant all the relief that is available in divorce, but the court does not actually end the marriage/domestic partnership. The married couple is not divorced at the end. The partnership is not dissolved.

You may choose to file for legal separation instead of divorce because you do not want to end the marriage/domestic partnership, but you want the other relief (such as property and debt division) available through legal separation. Example: Your religious beliefs discourage you from filing for divorce.

We have no publication explaining how to file for legal separation. The procedures are very alike. For more information on how to file a petition for legal separation, ask the family law facilitator or court clerk.

If you are thinking about filing for legal separation:

  • You do not have to file a petition for legal separation before filing for divorce.

  • To make sure you are not responsible for any debts the other party creates after one of you moves out, you should file for divorce and a Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders.

  • If you file for legal separation, but the other party files a counter-petition asking for a  divorce, the court will probably enter a  divorce. Only one party must show that there are irreconcilable differences between the parties in order to get a divorce.

  • If you file for legal separation, but later change your mind and want a divorce, you must file and serve a new petition for divorce (unless your spouse has cross-petitioned for a divorce).[6]

  • If the court enters a legal separation decree, the , your spouse can turn it into a divorce without your consent any time after six months have passed after entry of the decree of legal separation by filing file a motion to change the decree of legal separation to a Final Divorce Order. The court must grant the request.[7]   All the other parts of your legal separation orders (such as the parenting plan and order of child support) will stay in effect.

May I get an annulment instead?

There is no legal action called an "annulment" in Washington.[8]   There is a little-used action called a petition for a declarationof invalidity. This is like an annulment. It declares that the marriage/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/domestic partnership declared invalid:

  • one or both parties were underage (under age 17)

  • lack of required parental or court approval for persons under age 18

  • one or both parties was already married when the marriage/domestic partnership took place

  • the parties are too closely related by blood

  • one party lacked capacity to consent to the marriage/domestic partnership (could not give consent), because of mental incapacity or the influence of alcohol or drugs

  • a party was induced to enter into the marriage/domestic partnership by force or threat, or by fraud involving the essentials of marriage/domestic partnership

In addition to finding one of these above, the petitioner must also prove the parties have not "ratified" their marriage/domestic partnership (showed they wanted to continue the marriage/domestic partnership) by voluntarily continuing to live together as spouses/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.[9]    Only the party who was the victim of force or fraud can petition for a declaration of invalidity.[10]

*If you want to file a petition for a declaration of invalidity, or you have been served with such a petition, talk with a lawyer.

Section 3: Where should I file for divorce?

May I file 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 divorce in Washington.

You may file 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 you file and serve the divorce[11]

What If one party has never lived in Washington?

For the Washington court to make certain types of orders, Washington must have personal jurisdictionover the responding party (the one who did not file the divorce). Washington generally will have jurisdiction over the respondent if one of these is true:

  • The respondent lives in Washington

  • The respondent lived in Washington at some point during your marriage/domestic partnership

  • One of your children was conceived in Washington[12]

  • You (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 it jurisdiction over you. If this state does not have personal jurisdiction over the respondent, the Washington court cannot order Respondent to pay maintenance or debts, or divide any property that is not located in Washington.[13]

The petitioning party may still be able to get a divorce even if the court will not hear property issues because of lack of personal jurisdiction over the responding party.

*If you believe Washington lacks jurisdiction over you, you must make that claim in writing to the court before filing 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?

You may still be able to file for divorce and serve the other party by publication. You can still ask the court to end your marriage/domestic partnership and divide any property and debts that are located in Washington this way.

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 the other party is hiding either inside/outside Washington to avoid being served or paying debts.[14] 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 living on reservation land (even if it is not the other party's tribe of origin), you may have to file your divorce in tribal court.[15]   Talk to a lawyer with expertise in Indian law to find out where to file.

What if I have been served with a divorce and I do not think my case should be in Washington?

If you think the Washington court should not have jurisdiction over you, the property, and/or the marriage/domestic partnership, you must argue about jurisdiction BEFORE filing anything else in the case. Get advice from a lawyer. 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 you think Washington lacks personal jurisdiction over you right at the start, you will probably lose your chance to object.[16] If possible, write the court before you have a hearing. Tell the court why you believe Washington does not have jurisdiction over you. You may also file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Talk with a lawyer for more information on filing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

If you already have a hearing scheduled, and you cannot write the court before the hearing, go to the hearing in person. (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, s/he should dismiss the case to the extent that the Washington court has no jurisdiction over the case. If the judge does not rule in your favor, be ready to respond to the divorce.

*If you are going to a hearing to tell the judge 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 Washington has jurisdiction, ask the judge to read your response.

Where should I file my divorce?

You may file in the county where you live or the county where the respondent lives.[17]   If the case is filed in the county where one party lives, and the other wants to move the case to the county where s/he lives, the court may (but does not have to) change venue.[18]   See our publication called Filing a Motion for Change of Venue in a Family Law Case at  www.washingtonlawhelp.org. Also, ask the family law facilitator or court clerk 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 have divorce titles. The procedures and instructions are basically the same as for petition to end domestic partnership cases.

Filing in a County Where Neither Party Lives:  Some private services that prepare divorce papers for a fee tell people to file in a county neither party lives in. One county in which non-residents commonly file divorces is Lincoln County.

Think very carefully about whether to file in a county where neither you nor your partner 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.[19]

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 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 change the final court order later, 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, the court may order you to pay the other party's attorney fees and costs if the other party asks the court to vacate (cancel) the order later.[20]

You should file for divorce in the county where you live or where the other party lives. If you cannot afford the filing fee in your county, make a motion to the court to ask it to waive the fee. Our packet Filing for Waiver of Your Filing Fee has forms and instructions. Our publication Filing Fee Waiver has general information.

Section 4: How long will my dissolution take?

You must wait at least 90 days after you filed the petition and served it on the other party before entering final orders.[21]   Divorces 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 final will depend on your county and how complicated your case is. In some counties, the court will give you a trial date at the start 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.

Section 5: I was served with dissolution papers. What should I do?

Read ALL the papers 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 Family Law Orders or Immediate Restraining Order

Look carefully at the title of your papers (in the upper right section of the first page, under the case number). If the papers you got include forms called a Summons, and a Petition for Divorce or Petition to End Domestic Partnership, you will need one of these packets: Responding toa Divorce Petitionor Responding toa Petition to End DomesticPartnership.

If the papers include a Notice forHearingor Note forCalendar Motion(or any other paper indicating that a court date has been scheduled) and a Motionand Declaration for Temporary Family Law Orders,you just have a Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders. You may receive both a Petition for Divorce or to End Domestic Partnership and a Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders. If you received a Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders, get our packet called  Responding to Motions for Temporary Family Law Orders or Immediate Restraining Orders: Divorce Cases and Petition to Change Parenting Plan Cases.

If the papers you got include an Immediate Restraining Order,then you have a Motion for an Immediate Restraining Order. You may receive both a Petition for Divorce or to End Domestic Partnership and a Motion for an Immediate Restraining Order. Get our packet called  Responding to Motions for Temporary Family Law Orders or Immediate Restraining Orders: Divorce Cases and Petition to Change Parenting Plan Cases

  • Some of the packets we refer to are titled for divorce. The procedures and instructions are basically the same as for petition to domestic partnership cases.

  • An Immediate Restraining Order is a court order the other party got without you notice. You must obey the Restraining Order until your court hearing.[22]  At your hearing, the judge will decide whether to keep the Restraining Order in effect.

You must respond on time!

When served with legal papers, you must act right away to figure out how to respond. If you do not respond on time, the other party may automatically win what they are requesting. For a motion, you may have as few as four business days after receiving the papers to file your response. It may take time to find legal resources and read through this packet. You should do so as soon as possible after you get the papers. If you cannot respond in time, you must file a Noticeof Appearanceand 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. If you are very low-income and live outside 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 you need.

See Section 8 below.

Section 6: What if I need a court order in fewer than 90 days?

You may want the court to enter temporary family law orders before you get your Final Divorce Order and other orders. Temporary family law orders are orders a court enters very quickly to last until trial or the end of your divorce.

Example: you can get a court order before trial to make it clear you are not responsible for debts the other party creates or that would keep the other party from cleaning out the bank accounts or selling things. You could get a Motion for Temporary Family Law Ordersor, in an emergency, a Motion foran Immediate Restraining Order.

Whatis a Temporary Family Law Order?

It gives you certain rights and/or protections before your divorce is final. You may request a temporary family law order any time between when you file your Summons and Petition for Divorce and the day your divorce is final. You must file a Motion for Temporary Family Law 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 your motion asked for. The amount of notice you must give the other party before a hearing varies by county. Ask the court clerk or family law facilitator about your county's notice requirements.

Do I need a Temporary Family Law Order?

It depends. Ask yourself:

  • Are you happy with the way things are going right now without the temporary family law order?

  • Do you need to ask the court to order the other party to do (or stop doing) something?

You may ask for many types of things in a temporary family law order, including:

  • Restraining order to keep one party from harassing or coming near the other

  • Restraining orders to keep a party from giving away or selling property, taking out loans in both your names, or taking 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 Immediate Restraining Order?

If there is an emergency, you may need protection from the courts right away. An Immediate Restraining Order takes effect right away. The court often enters it without any notice to the other party. (The other party will later have a chance to have a hearing where the judge will decide whether to continue the order.) You may need an immediate restraining 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, is taking large amounts of money out of your accounts, or is selling or hiding property. If you file a Motion for an Immediate Restraining Order, you do not need to file a Motion for Temporary Family Law Orders. The same types of orders are available.

What if I want to change my Temporary Family Law Order?

Unlike a Final Divorce Order, the court can change a Temporary Family Law Order at any time before your divorce is final.[23]   To change a Temporary Family Law Order, you must file another Motion for Temporary Family Law 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,[24] or have been threatened with injury, consider asking for a Domestic Violence Protection Order. You can do this before or after filing for divorce. You may also ask the court to enter a permanent protection order as part of the final orders in the divorce. A Domestic Violence Protection Order can:

  • Keep a party out of the family home and away from your home, work or school

  • Order a party not to threaten, assault, harass or stalk another

  • Order a party 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?

Each party must tell the court about all his/her separate and community property and debts. The court must divide all the parties' property and debts in the Final Divorce Order.

Washington is a community propertystate. Generally, in Washington, all property either party gets during the marriage/domestic partnership is community property and belongs to both parties.[25]   If a spouse/partner buys property, such as a house, other real estate or a car, during the marriage/domestic partnership, the property is probably community property even if only one party is on the title.[26]   Each party's earnings, any pension benefits accrued, and any 401(k) contributions made during the marriage/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.[27]   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 family law attorney with expertise in community property issues.

Separate propertybelongs to only one spouse/partner. Generally it is property the party got before the marriage/domestic partnership, inherited or got as a gift either before or during the marriage/domestic partnership, or got after separation.[28]   (If you lived together in a stable relationship before your marriage/domestic partnership, the property and earnings you had during the time you lived together may also be community property.)[29]

Generally, all debts created by either party during the marriage/domestic partnership are community debts. Both parties are equally responsible for paying. Separate debts are those made

  • before the marriage/domestic partnership OR

  • after the date of separation

The law on community and separate property can be very complicated. 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?

It depends. The court does not have to award one party's separate property to that party, or divide the community property 50/50. [30]  The court can make any division of property and debts that is just and equitable, after considering:

  • The nature and extent[31] of the community property

  • The nature and extent of the separate property

  • The duration of the marriage/domestic partnership

  • The economic circumstances of each spouse/partner at the time the division of property is to happen[32]

How does the court decide what is a just and equitable division of property and debts?

It will depend on several things. The main factor is what type of financial condition the division of property and debts will leave each party in.[33]   The court generally will not want to leave one party extremely wealthy and the other poor.[34]   The court will also consider issues such as each party's age, health, education, and work prospects.

  • Example 1: in a long-term marriage/domestic partnership where one party has not worked much outside the home, the court may award that party more community property (or long-term maintenance) to make sure s/he does not end up much poorer than the other.[35]

  • Example 2: One party is disabled and unable to work. The court may award the disabled party more community property.[36]

  • Example 3: the court may consider which party will be able to afford to pay the debts after divorce when deciding who must pay them.[37]

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.[38]

What if I have a Prenuptial Contract, Domestic Partnership Agreement or Community Property Agreement?

Some couples sign a written agreement before they marry or become domestic partners stating how they will divide their property and debts in the event of divorce. This is often called a prenuptial agreement.

Others sign an agreement during the marriage/domestic partnership, stating what property is community and 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 you a written agreement regarding your property and debts, get a copy of it. Have a lawyer review it. It 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 you bought your car and other property with money you earned during the marriage/domestic partnership, it is community property. Each party's income during the marriage/domestic partnership is community property. Anything you buy with either spouse/partner's income belongs to both of you. It does not matter whose paycheck you used.[39]   The court will divide the car and other property based on 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?

It depends. The court may award you an interest in the house (also called an equitable lien).. The house is the other party's separate property because s/he bought the house before your marriage/domestic partnership. 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 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), plus any community payments toward the mortgage. The court would reduce your community interest by the house's reasonable rental value because you had the benefit of living there during the marriage/domestic partnership. The court might rule that you have no community interest in the house because your community contributions were offset by the value you got from living there.[40]

This issue is complicated. Talk to a lawyer.

What should we do with our home?

Take a careful look at:

  • the home's value

  • what you still owe on it

  • each party's post-divorce income

Example: can one person alone pay the mortgage? If not, awarding one of you the property may eventually lead to foreclosure and all the related negative effects to your credit. Selling the property (liquidation) might be safest.

Title and ownership can differ from whose name is on the mortgage account. This can cause problems. Example: a court could award one spouse title to the home in the divorce. If no one takes specific action, the other spouse's name could stay on the mortgage. If the first spouse later falls behind on payments, it can be very hard to deal with the lender to get a modification with the second spouse's name still on the mortgage. Try not to create a post-divorce situation where title is in one name, but the debt remains in another. Try to refinance the property in the first spouse's name alone (in this example) at/near the time of the divorce, 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 can order the sale of your house even if one party objects.[41]   It will most likely do this if necessary to divide the property equitably, or the parties are behind on payments.

Is it true that I have no right to my spouse's pension because he earned it?

It depends. Both spouses have a legal interest in retirement or pension benefits, including 401(k) plans earned during the marriage. The portion of a pension earned during the marriage (and the increase in value of that portion) is community property.[42]   Some disability benefits that substitute for pension benefits may also be community property.[43]

If you believe 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 it. You may be able to get a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Under the QDRO, 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 PensionRights at Divorce: What Women Need to Know. Find out more at their website:  http://www.pensionrights.org/publications/book/your-pension-rights-divorce-what-women-need-know or call them at (202) 296-3776.  (This book is not free.)

The other party had an affair that caused our divorce. The divorce is the other party's fault. Should the court give me more of the property?

No. Washington has "no fault" divorce. The court may not consider which party "caused" the divorce when deciding how to divide the property. The court may consider the other party's conduct if s/he wasted assets from the marriage/domestic partnership without your consent, or if s/he tried to hide assets from the court.[44]

I am not working right now. Will the court order the other party to pay me alimony?

Maybe. Maintenance (also called alimony) is a payment one spouse/partner makes to the other to provide financial support. The court will not automatically award maintenance. It looks at several factors in deciding whether to award maintenance, including:

  • length of marriage/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/domestic partnership

  • age and health of the party asking for maintenance[45]

If you have been unemployed for a long time (example: 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 can work (or is working to support him/herself), the court may still award maintenance if it will help that party enjoy the standard of living that was usual during the marriage/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."[46]

You are more likely to get long-term or permanent maintenance after a long marriage/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. [47]  Unless the Final Divorce Order states otherwise, maintenance payments end when the person receiving the payments remarries, registers a new domestic partnership, or dies.[48]   This is another complicated issue. Talk to a lawyer.

Important Information about Community Debts

You may end up paying a debt even if the court ordered the other party to pay it. As part of the Final Divorce Order, the court will order one or both parties to pay any debts they owe. This includes your mortgage, any car loans, credit card debts, utility bills, back taxes, and so on. 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 the other party is supposed to pay.

If the other party does not pay the debt and you end up paying it, you must sue the other party in court to force him/her to pay you back. If you think this might be a problem, check the second box in section 12 of the Final Divorce Order form. Then, if you must sue the other party to force him/her to pay you back you for debts you paid, s/he must pay your attorney's fees and costs as well.

The other party may try to avoid paying community debts by filing for bankruptcy after entry of your Final Divorce Order. 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.

Section 8. Our Do-it-Yourself Family Law Packets

Are there alternatives to filing for divorce using the Do-it-Yourself packets?


  • Use our interactive online interviews for filing and finalizing your divorce of marriage with no children. This online question-and-answer interview produces filled-out court forms and step-by-step instructions for simple, uncontested cases that do not need temporary family law orders. Get started at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.

  • Hire a lawyer to represent you. If you can afford to, you should talk to a lawyer about your case and consider hiring him/her to file for divorce for you. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact your local legal services office to see if a lawyer can represent you or give advice to help you represent yourself. Some legal services offices and county bar and pro bono programs represent people in divorces. 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 in how to file your own divorce. It may cost more than this packet, but provide you with more help filling out 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.

  • Where available, use the family law facilitator's Do-It-Yourself packets. Family law facilitators often have do-it-yourself packets designed for that county. The facilitators are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice.

What packets do I need to file for divorce?

We publish several do-it-yourself packets with instructions and forms for filing for and finalizing a divorce. The following list should help you decide what you will need. You will need more than one packet to finalize an entire divorce case. You should get only the packets you need at the time you need them.

*Some of these packets have "divorce" in the title. The procedures and instructions are basically the same for petition to end domestic partnership cases.  

Other: Local Do-it-Yourself packets: Local court rules may require you to use other forms or packets. Check with your court clerk office or family law facilitator.

I have more questions about the law. Where do I get more information?

Our website, http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org, has other publications, packets, and links. If you need more information, or do not have internet access, visit your local law library (usually in your county's Superior Court building).


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. Footnotes tell you the law or court case supporting the footnoted statement. RCW stands for Revised Code of Washington,  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 we published this packet. The law sometimes changes before we can update the packet.

3. We refer to your spouse/partner as "the other party" throughout this packet.


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.

6. In reMarriageofMarkowski, 50 Wn. App. 633, 749 P.2d 754 (1988).

8. Some religions have a procedure for annulment of a marriage under that religion's rules. A religious annulment does not legally end your marriage.

10. Savillev. Saville,44 Wn.2d 793, 271 P.2d 432 (1954).

11. RCW 26.09.030. If you live outside Washington and you are filing a divorce in Washington, other states may not recognize (honor) your divorce if you do not make sure your spouse/partner is a Washington resident or stationed in Washington for at least 90 days after you file and serve your divorce. MarriageofWays,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, talk to a lawyer.

13. Marriage of Peck, 82 Wn. App. 809, 920 P.2d 236 (1996); Vanderbiltv. Vanderbilt,354 U.S. 416, 1 L.Ed.2d 1456, 77 S. Ct. 1360 (1957).

14. In re Marriage of Powell, 84 Wn. App. 432, 436 (1996).

15. 25 USCA §1322; RCW 37.12.010.

16. Civil Rule (CR) 12(b), (g), (h); Sherrerv. Sherrer, 334 U.S. 343, 92 L. Ed. 1429, 68 S. Ct. 1087 (1948).

19. Schroederv. Schroeder, 74 Wn.2d 853, 447 P.2d 604 (1968).

20. Civil Rule (CR) 55(a)(4) states: A default shall not be entered if it clearly appears to the court from the papers on file that the action was brought in an improper county. Seealso CR 55(c)(2).


22. You may file a Motion to Quash the Immediate Restraining Order before the hearing. It may be hard to do this without a lawyer. You may want to respond to the Motion for an Immediate Restraining Order 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.

24. "Domestic violence" refers to acts of violence or threats of harm by one spouse/partner toward the other  or their children. RCW 26.50.010(1). If your spouse/partner has injured or threatened you or your children with bodily injury , you may be a victim of domestic violence.

25. RCW 26.16.030; Yeslerv. Hochstetter, 4 Wn. 349, 30 P. 398 (1892).

26. Hulingv. Vaux, 18 Wn. App. 222, 566 P.2d 1271 (1977).

28. Jacobsv. Hoitt, 119 Wn. 283, 205 P. 414 (1922); Walkerv. Fowler, 155 Wn. 631, 285 P. 649 (1930); RCW 26.16.140.

29. See,InreMarriageofLindsey,101 Wn.2d 299, 678 P.2d 328 (1984); In reMarriageofDeHollander, 53 Wn. App. 695, 770 P.2d 638 (1989); but see,In reMarriageofPennington, 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 MarriageofPearson-Maines, 70 Wn. App. 860, 855 P.2d 1210 (1993).

30. See,forexample,In reMarriageofMathews, 70 Wn. App. 116, 853 P.2d 462, reviewdenied, 122 Wn.2d 1021, 863 P.2d 1353 (1993).

31. This means what type of property it is (real estate, cars, household items, and so on), how much property there is, and/or how much it is worth.

33. See,for example,In reMarriageofMathews, 70 Wn. App. 116, 853 P.2d 462, reviewdenied, 122 Wn.2d 1021, 863 P.2d 1353 (1993).

34. If the marriage/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/domestic partnership, even if one party ends up much better off.

35. See,forexample,InreMarriageofDonovan, 25 Wn. App. 691, 696-97, 612 P.2d 387 (1980).

36. See,forexample,Oestreichv. Oestreich, 2 Wn.2d 72, 97 P.2d 655 (1939); Shayv. Shay, 33 Wn.2d 408, 205 P.2d 901 (1949).

37. SeeIn reMarriageofSteadman, 63 Wn. App. 523, 821 P.2d 59 (1991).

38. MatterofMarriageofOlivares, 69 Wn. App. 324, 848 P.2d 1281, reviewdenied, 122 Wn.2d 1009, 863 P.2d 72 (1993).

39. See,InreMarriageofDeHollander, 53 Wn. App. 695, 770 P.2d 638 (1989).

40. See,forexample,MarriageofMiracle, 101 Wn.2d 137, 675 P.2d 1229 (1984), declined to extend by In re MarriageofMarshall, 86 Wn. App. 878, 940 P.2d 283 (1997) (the court would not extend an equitable lien on the separate property interest of either party).

41. In reMarriageofFoley, 84 Wn. App. 839, 930 P.2d 929 (1997).

42. See,forexample,In reMarriageofKillmer, 73 Wn. App. 373, 870 P.2d 978, reviewdenied, 124 Wn.2d 1022, 881 P.2d 253 (1994).

43. See,forexample,MatterofMarriageofLeland, 69 Wn. App. 57, 847 P2.d 518, review denied, 121 Wn.2d 1033, 856 P.2d 383 (1993).

44. See,forexample,In reMarriageofNicholson, 17 Wn. App. 110, 561 P.2d 1116 (1977); butsee,In reMarriageof Williams, 84 Wn. App. 263, 927 P.2d 679, reviewdenied, 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).

46. In reMarriageofWashburn, 101 Wn.2d 168, 178, 677 P.2d 152 (1984).

47. See, for example, In re Marriage of Morrow, 53 Wn. App. 579, 770 P.2d 197 (1989).




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 May 2016

© 2016 Northwest 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.)

Last Review and Update: May 17, 2016
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