What if I am being sued in Washington State and I live 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

The Basics

Yes, if both of these are true:

  1. You live outside of Washington State.
  2. You have received a petition or complaint filed against you with a court in Washington State (someone is suing you or taking you to 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.

If someone is suing you, you must respond in writing to the lawsuit.  We explain here why you must respond and how to respond, with or without help from a lawyer.

Maybe. When you have a legal matter, it is best to work with a lawyer.  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 Legal Voice.

You can contact the legal aid office in your state to find out if you qualify to get free legal help.  Visit LawHelp for help finding a legal aid office near you. If you do qualify, your local legal aid office might contact the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) in Washington State for you to ask them to represent you. You can also contact NJP directly. See contact info below.

You must represent yourself.  You will be a "pro se" respondent.

You should have been served with a Summons and a 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 to respond.

You will need to do all of these:

  • Fill out a specific legal form (usually a "Response" form, but depends on the type of case)
  • Have the original of the completed form filed at the courthouse
  • Have a copy of it served on the person who is taking you to court

Our self-help packets at WashingtonLawHelp.org explain both Responding and serving in different types of cases.

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 the court getting any input from you.

It depends on if Washington has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is a court's power to hear 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 information and for 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.

It depends. Venue is the county your case is filed in.

The right venue 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

Preparing for a hearing

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.

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

Check for court forms and instructions on the county court's website. The county where your case is filed may want you to use their forms instead of the Washington State forms.

If your court has a Family Court Facilitator, they may have their own packets. Visit the Court's website to find out if the court has a facilitator.

You can also go to the list of all Washington State court forms to download court forms.  It generally does not have instructions.

Since you are responding, you can have the other party served in person (by hand delivery) or by mail. Do not do it yourself. Have a friend or relative, age 18 or over, who is not a party to the case, do it for you.

Your server must afterwards file a written 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, you should hire pay a professional server file and serve your papers. You can find one using websites like Serve Now or Process Servers.  Look for reviews.  The cost to hire a server might depend on the place and how hard service might be. 

  • Make sure the server you hire can file and serve papers in Washington State.

Maybe. It depends on the county. Contact the court clerk directly to ask.

You might have to pay to file by email. The statewide court rule about electronic filing, GR (General Rule) 30, explains fees and procedures related to e-filing.  You must also check local (county) court rules. Visit the Court's website to see if the rules in the court where your case is filed talk about e-filing.  

Maybe.  You will need to get the judge's approval beforehand to do so.  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. You can find the phone number by visiting the State Courts directory.

The court hearing your case might require you to try some kind of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This is a way to work out your disagreement without 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. 

If the county where your case is filed doesn't require settlement conferences, but you still want to try to resolve the case without going to trial, you can try using a mediation service.  To find one, visit the Court's website and search for dispute resolution.

Maybe not. 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.

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Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Last Review and Update: Mar 29, 2022
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