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WashingtonLawHelp.orgWashington LawHelp

Responding to Washington State Litigation From Out of State

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Provides general info for people who live outside Washington AND have been served with a petition or complaint filed with a court in Washington state. #9928EN


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Should I read this?

Yes, if both of these are true:

  • You live outside Washington.

  • You have been served with a petition or complaint filed with a court in Washington state.

*Responding to a legal action from a different state is very hard. If you are still in Washington, try to take care of any legal issues before leaving the state. 

Do I need a lawyer?

It is best to work with one when you have a legal matter.  When your case is in a different state from where you live, a lawyer in the other state can represent you.  In most cases, you must pay a lawyer.  Read How to Find a Lawyer by the Legal Voice. 

You can contact the legal aid office in your state to find out if you qualify for legal services.  If so, they might contact the Northwest Justice Project in Washington State to ask them to represent you.

If you cannot find a lawyer, you must represent yourself.  You will be a pro se respondent.

How much time do I have to respond?

You should have been served with a summons and petition or complaint.  The summons will say how many days you have to respond.  Often, if you are in a different state you have 60 days.

What does "responding" mean?

It means:

  • filling out a specific legal form

  • having it filed at the courthouse

  • having it served on the person taking you to court

What if I do not respond?

The other person can ask the court for a default decision.  That means they can ask the court to order whatever they asked for in their petition or complaint without your input.

Should my case be in Washington State?

It depends on if Washington has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is a court’s power to hear your case.  The court must have jurisdiction to enter an order in or decide your case.  For family law cases, a county superior court has jurisdiction. For small claims, a county district court has jurisdiction.  Check these websites for more info and examples of types of cases each hears:

Jurisdiction can also refer to which state has the right to hear your case.  For custody cases, read Which Court Can Enter Custody Orders? Questions and Answers about Jurisdiction.  If the case is about something else, see Washington State’s law RCW 4.12 Venue and Jurisdiction.

Is the case filed in the right county in Washington?

Venue is the county your case is filed in. It could be

  • the place where an event happened or where the petitioner (or plaintiff) or a respondent (or defendant) lives 

  • the place where your minor child lives

I think this case was filed in the wrong state or county. What can I do?

Talk to a lawyer.  Jurisdiction can be very complicated. If you want your case moved to a different state or county, ask for this in your response. You will probably not be able to move your case later on.

Where can I get court forms?

Look for a self-help packet for your case at www.washingtonlawhelp.org.  They have forms and instructions for filling them out and what else to do. Example: there is a self-help packet called Responding to a Divorce.

Check for court forms and instructions on the county court’s website. (Check for your county court’s website at www.courts.wa.gov) Your county may want you to use their forms instead of the Washington State forms.

If your court has a Family Law Facilitator (check www.courts.wa.gov), they may have their own packets.
You can also go to the Washington State court website to download court forms.  It generally does not have instructions.

How do I file and serve forms?

Since you are responding, you can serve the other party in person or by mail. Ask a friend or relative, age 18 or over, who is not a party to the case, to do it for you. Your server must also file a statement with the court, swearing that they served the other person.  They can also file other papers at the courthouse for you.

If you can afford it, have a professional process server file and serve your papers. Check websites like www.serve-now.com, www.napps.org, or www.processservers.com.  Look for reviews.  The cost to hire a server might depend on the place and how hard service might be. 

*Make sure the process service can file and serve papers in Washington State.

Can I file documents with the court by email?

Maybe. Several county courts accept documents by email for filing:

There may be others. Ask the court where your case is filed.

The statewide court rule about electronic filing, GR30, explains fees and procedures related to e-filing.  You must also check local (county) court rules

You can only file certain documents in paper form.  Examples:

  • original wills

  • certified records of proceedings for purposes of appeal

*The superior court clerk may be able to help with e-filing.  Example: the King County Clerk’s Office has an e-filing help line. Contact them at (206) 205-1600 or eServices@kingcounty.gov.

Can I attend court hearings by phone? 

Maybe.  You need the judge’s approval.  You must show “good cause.”  Good cause may include: 

  • you live out of state

  • you live over two hours from the courthouse

  • you have a medical condition which keeps you from traveling

  • you are in jail or prison and cannot come to the court 

To ask to attend a hearing by phone, contact the court and the courtroom where your hearing is scheduled.  Check the court’s website for the phone number.

As of July 2018, these superior courts use CourtCall for phone hearings:    

  • Cowlitz
  • Ferry
  • Island
  • Jefferson
  • Kitsap
  • Lewis
  • Okanogan
  • Pend Oreille
  • Pierce
  • San Juan
  • Skagit
  • Spokane
  • Stevens
  • Yakima

CourtCall is not free.  Generally, it is for hearings where there will be no argument or testimony.  The judge assigned to your case must approve its use.  Call CourtCall customer service at 1-888-882-6878 to find out what types of court proceedings you can attend using it. Learn more at www.courtcall.com.

What is a settlement conference?

Many courts require you to try some kind of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This is a way to deal with your disagreement besides going to trial. A settlement conference is one type of ADR. 

A volunteer judge not assigned for your trial or a volunteer lawyer is in charge of your settlement conference.  They will try to help you

  • talk about issues

  • solve differences

  • reach agreement without a trial 

The judge or lawyer running the settlement conference will not make a decision for you.  If you still disagree at the end of the settlement conference, you must go to trial. 

Some counties only provide settlement conferences for low- and moderate-income parties.  Generally, it is a volunteer program.  Some counties may charge a fee. 

You can use a mediation service instead.  To find one, go to the Washington State court website. Look for Washington State Dispute Resolution Centers.

Can I attend a settlement conference by phone?

Usually, you must do this in person.  If you have a good reason, you may be able to attend by phone or electronically.  Contact the judge or lawyer conducting your settlement conference to ask.

Where can I get more information about how to represent myself in Washington state?

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 August 2018.

© 2018 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)


Last Review and Update: Aug 01, 2018