How Dissolution of Marriage Works in Washington

Although it is known as a divorce in other states, the state of Washington calls the formal and legal ending of a marriage a “dissolution.” You might hear both divorce and dissolution used interchangeably, but the legal term is dissolution. So, what is the process for dissolution of a marriage in Washington? We explain the steps here.

Washington Is a No-Fault State

The first thing to understand is that we are a no-fault divorce state. That means that you do not have to assign blame or prove that the other spouse is at fault for the failure of the marriage. It also means that only one spouse has to decide that the marriage is over in order to begin dissolution proceedings. Some people believe that there is a benefit to being the first to file for dissolution, but this is a myth. The only "benefit" to filing first is paying hundreds of dollars for the court filing fee.

Taking the First Step

In the majority of dissolution cases, after the initial petition has been filed, either party begins the substantive process by filing a Motion for Temporary Orders. The parties can at times work together to come to an agreement on Temporary Orders. Temporary Orders are best described as the rules the parties will live by while they work toward valuing and characterizing their financial assets and determining the long-term best interests of the children. Temporary Orders provide for the following:

  • How much, if any, spousal and child support a party may receive or be obligated to pay
  • A temporary residential schedule determining where the children will reside and on what days
  • Who has use and possession of what property

The last issue determines who gets to live in the house, who drives which car, and who has to pay what monthly bills. This can be a difficult part of the process as these are very difficult decisions for many families to make.

What Comes Next?

After Temporary Orders are either ordered by the Court after a brief hearing or entered by agreement, there is something called discovery that must often be completed. Discovery involves figuring out all the details of the case both for the financial aspects and for the parenting aspects, if applicable. In order to resolve a dissolution case, all of the parties’ assets and liabilities need to be determined and divided. This may involve obtaining appraisals by real estate experts, valuations of stock options or businesses owned by the parties, or separate property tracing.

If children are involved, discovery may involve waiting for a court-appointed neutral parenting evaluator or guardian ad litem (GAL) to conduct an investigation and issue a report providing recommendations as to the children’s care.

Once all the facts are “discovered,” parties can either use their attorneys to help settle issues that are in dispute or they can attend mediation with a trained mediator who assists them in settling their dispute. If all else fails, the case goes to trial and the Court will resolve the remaining issues.

How Long Will it Take?

There is no way to say for certain how long a dissolution will take from start to finish. When one spouse files a Petition for Dissolution, the other spouse may join in the Petition. If both spouses are in agreement and file the Petition together, they must wait 90 days from the date of filing. This would be the shortest possible time for a dissolution. If the spouse who does not file refuses to join in the Petition, he or she will be served. Once the spouse is served, there is a mandatory waiting period of 90 days. Dissolutions can take considerably longer than 90 days if there is disagreement over financial support, child custody, or distribution of assets and liabilities.

de Maar Law Is Your Compassionate Choice

A simple description of the process does not reveal how difficult a dissolution can be for couples. Divorce can bring out the worst in people and feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, frustration, and despair are not uncommon. The family law attorneys at de Maar Law understand how difficult this is and we make every effort to facilitate a cooperative agreement between our client and the other spouse. However, if our client’s needs are not being met, we are fierce litigators who will not hesitate to fight in court for what you deserve from the marriage. Contact us as early in the process as possible to discuss how we may be able to help you get through this difficult time.