When you have received divorce papers: General info

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What you should do if you have been served with divorce paperwork. #3242EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you have received divorce papers from a Washington State Superior Court.
  • Read all court papers you get very carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Look at the title of your papers. The title is in the upper right section of the first page, under the case number.

If you got a Summons and a Petition for Divorce, you have a divorce case. Our Responding to a Divorce packet has forms and instructions to help you respond to the divorce.

The papers should say "Superior Court of Washington, County of _______" at the top. Your spouse should have started the case, or filed the case in, the county you live in or the county your spouse lives in.

If your spouse did not file in one of those counties, you can ask the court to move the case to the right county. Our File for Change of Venue in a Family Law Case packet has the forms and instructions for doing this.

An Immediate Restraining Order (and Hearing Notice) is a court order your spouse got without giving you notice beforehand. It also tells you that your spouse has scheduled a hearing.

Make sure you know your deadline to respond. You must act fast. Use our Respond to Motions for Temporary Family Law Orders or Immediate Restraining Orders in a Family Law Case packet.

You must also make sure you obey the Immediate Restraining Order until your court hearing. At the hearing, the court will decide if it should keep the Immediate Restraining Order or end it.

Know your deadline to respond and do so before the deadline. Look for a Hearing Notice. Your spouse has probably scheduled a hearing on the Motion.

Use our Respond to Motions for Temporary Family Law Orders or Immediate Restraining Orders in a Family Law Casepacket.

If you do not respond on time, your spouse could automatically get everything they have asked the court for out of the divorce.

Get started right away. You may have as few as 4 business days after getting the papers to file a response to a motion.

It depends.

"Jurisdiction" is the court's authority to hear and enter orders in a matter. Washington will only have personal jurisdiction over you if you do or have done something to give it jurisdiction.

If Washington does not have personal jurisdiction over you, its courts cannot order you to pay alimony, child support, or debts, or divide any property that is not located in Washington. Your spouse may still be able to get a divorce even if the court will not decide custody and property issues.

If you haven't had any contact with this state, and you don't want your divorce case to proceed here, don't do anything that could give Washington jurisdiction over you, such as filing a response, signing agreed orders, or asking the court to grant you anything other than dismissing the case.

If you think the Washington court should not have jurisdiction over you, the children, the property, and/or the marriage, you must argue about jurisdiction before filing anything else.

You should write the judge assigned to your case a letter before any hearings and say why Washington does not have jurisdiction over you. You can find the court's address and contact info using the Washington State court directory at courts.wa.gov/court_dir. You can call the Superior Court where the divorce was filed to find out which judge your divorce case has been assigned to.

You can also file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. A lawyer might be able to help you with this. See contact info below.

If a hearing is already scheduled and you cannot write the court before the hearing, go to the hearing in person, or call the court beforehand to ask about appearing by phone. Tell the judge why you think there is no jurisdiction over your case. A judge who rules in your favor should dismiss the case to the extent that the Washington court has no jurisdiction over the case. If the judge rules against you, be ready to respond to the divorce in Washington.

If you are going to a hearing to tell the judge you think Washington lacks jurisdiction, you should still prepare a response to the motion or petition before the hearing. Do not file the response but bring it with you to the hearing. If the judge decides that Washington has jurisdiction, you should then ask the judge to read your response.

The case will probably proceed in Washington. You probably will not be able to object later.

You can agree to Washington having jurisdiction over you if you want to. 

If Washington has jurisdiction over your children, the court can enter a parenting plan even if Washington does not have personal jurisdiction over you. Read Which Court Can Enter Custody Orders? Questions and Answers about Jurisdiction to learn more.

Talk to a lawyer familiar with family law before filing anything. Some counties have family law facilitators who can help fill out forms or free legal clinics giving legal advice.

Get Legal Help

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

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Last Review and Update: Jan 31, 2023
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