Can I file for divorce if my spouse does not live in Washington?
You can initiate divorce proceedings in Washington if you reside in Washington, even if your spouse lives in another state or even another country.
Does Washington have jurisdiction over the case if my spouse does not live in Washington?
Clients never like this answer, because it seems like the most lawyerly of al answers. But there is no other way to answer this question.
If your spouse does not live in Washington, your spouse must have business or personal connections to the state. Courts refer to these connections as minimum contacts.
Put another way, a Washington court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident spouse unless the spouse has minimum contacts with Washington State.
The legislature tells courts exactly what types of contacts are required to justify jurisdiction. Under RCW 4.28.185, one of the following types of contacts is required:
- The spouse conducts business within Washington
- You committed a “tortious act” in Washington (this means you committed some type of civil misconduct, such as assault or harassment)
- The spouse owns property in Washington
- You and your spouse may have conceived a child in Washington
- You and your spouse lived in a marital relationship in Washington, even if your spouse eventually left the state.
Here are several examples to make the concept of minimum contacts more clear:
Example #1: You and your spouse have separated. You live in Tacoma. Your husband lives in Washington, D.C, but the two of you still co-own a restaurant in Seattle. You initiate divorce proceedings in Pierce County Superior Court.
The court has personal jurisdiction over your husband conducts business in Washington.
Example #2: You and your wife have separated. You live in Bremerton. Your wife, who is now approximately 3 months pregnant, lives in Oregon. You and your wife last had sexual intercourse about three months ago when you were living together in Kitsap County. You initiate divorce proceedings in Kitsap County Superior Court.
Example #3: You and your spouse met in South Korea, where you were both working at the time. Six months later, you moved to Bellingham, where you lived together for one year. Eventually, you and your spouse separate, and he moves back to Texas, where he grew up. You initiate divorce proceedings in Whatcom County Superior Court.
The court has personal jurisdiction over your husband because you and your husband lived in a marital-type relationship in Washington.
If the court does not have jurisdiction over my spouse, can I still file for divorce in Washington?
Yes, but the court may not be able to grant you full full relief.
If a Washington does not have personal jurisdiction over a spouse, the court cannot enter any child support orders or enter any orders dividing marital property, assets, or debt.
The court may still be able to enter orders relating to child custody even if the court does not have personal jurisdiction. This depends on whether the other spouse has received proper notice of the divorce under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).