Call for a Case Review 206-829-8415

How do I file for divorce in Washington State?

Do I need a reason to get divorced?


Washington is considered a "no-fault" divorce state.  You do not need to prove, for example, that your spouse had an affair, physically assaulted you, or stole money from you.  

You only have to allege "irreconcilable differences."  In other words, you and your spouse don't get along and that's not going to change.  

My spouse does not want to get divorced.  Does that matter?


Because Washington is a no-fault divorce state, you do not a reason to file for divorce.  By this same logic, your spouse's desire to remain married cannot override your decision to get divorced.   

Do I have to live in Washington to file for divorce in the state?


Under Washington law, you must be a resident of Washington at the time you file your divorce petition.  It does not matter how long you have lived in Washington before you file your petition.  Nor does it matter how long you continue to live in Washington after you have filed your petition.

The term "residency" has a broader term for purposes of divorce than you might think.  Under RCW 26.09.030, the court can hear your divorce case if one of the following four situations apply:

  • You are a resident of Washington State.
  • Your spouse is a resident of Washington State.
  • You are a member of the armed forces and you are stationed in Washington at the time you file for divorce.
  • Your spouse is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in Washington at the time you file for divorce.

Example #1: You and your spouse live in Minnesota.  Your spouse is an active-duty officer in the Navy and is assigned to Naval Base Kitsap.  After you separate, you move back to Minnesota.  You file your divorce petition in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Washington has jurisdiction because your spouse is stationed in Kitsap County.

Example #2You and your spouse live in France.  Over Christmas, you visited family in Everett, but returned to France after two weeks.  A few months later, you file for divorce in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Washington does not have jurisdiction,  Although you visited Washington in the past, you were living in France when you filed your petition.  Neither you nor your husband is a member of the armed forces.

My spouse and I married in another state.  Can we still get divorced in Washington?


All that's required is that at least one spouse be a resident of Washington at the time the divorce is filed.  Whether you got married in Oregon or California or Japan does not matter.

Does my spouse have to live in Washington?

Not necessarily.  

You can file for divorce in Washington even if your spouse lives outside Washington.  In this case, however, the court may not have personal jurisdiction over your spouse, which may limit the types of relief you can receive.  

However, if your spouse does not live in Washington, you may not be able to get all of the relief that you want.  For example, are you asking for child support?  Spousal maintenance?  Custody of your child.  These answers depend on whether the court has jurisdiction over the other spouse, which is a more complicated question. 

How long do I have to be separated to get divorced?

In Washington, you do not have to be separated to file for divorce.  

Most of our clients have already moved out before starting the divorce process, but this is not a legal requirement.  All you have to prove to get divorced is that your marriage is irretrievably broken, and you may know this before you or your spouse physically separate. 

Which county do I file the divorce petition?

In Washington, you can file for divorce in any county within the state.  

Of course, our clients typically file where they live.  Our clients who live in Seattle typically file in King County Superior Court.  For those who live in Richland, they file in Benton County.  

To be clear, however.  You do not have to reside in the county in which you file for divorce.  If you live in Omak, you can file in Whatcom County.  And if you live in Vancouver, you can just as easily file in Stevens County.  

Does it matter if my spouse files for divorce first?

Every client, it seems, asks us this question right when they hire us. 

The answer is no.

Some spouses feel psychologically empowered by filing first. But legally, it does not matter.  You can be the petition (the party who files first) and end up feeling like you were treated unfairly at the end of the process.  Conversely, you can be the respondent (the non-filing party) and ultimately feel like you "won" the divorce.

We've experienced both types of clients, and the flip side of both.  

What court do I file my petition?

Only superior courts have jurisdiction over dissolution and legal separation proceedings in Washington.  You cannot file your petition in district court or municipal court. 

Because divorce is a state law issue, you must file your divorce petition in state court.  Do not file in federal court.  

How much does it cost to file for divorce?

The typical filing fee is $290.  You will likely have to pay additional fees to serve your spouse with copies of the divorce paperwork.  How much you'll need to pay for service depends primarily on whether your spouse will put up a fight in accepting the paperwork.

How do I serve my spouse with divorce paperwork?

In Washington, there are two main types of service: personal service and constructive service.

Personal service works exactly how you probably think it works.  Your spouse is hand-delivered copies of the summons and divorce petition. This could be at her home, or work, or at a public park.  Personal service is the ideal, because it's the most clean cut.

A big caveat, however.  You cannot personally give the documents to your spouse.  In Washington, anyone over the age of 18 who is of sound mind and is not a party to the case can personally serve legal documents.  Because you are a party to your own divorce, you are out. 

After personal service, constructive service is the next best option.  Constructive service means your process server or your friend brings your divorce paperwork to your spouse's home and leaves them with a resident of “suitable age and discretion.”  This is a fancy legal term for basically anyone who can understand the significance of what is happening. 

Example #1Your process server gives a copy of the summons and petition to your spouse's live-in girlfriend.  This is proper service.

Example #2Your process server gives a copy of the summons and petition to your spouse's 10-year-old child.  This is not proper service.  A 10-year-old is too young to understand the legal significance of a divorce. 

Example #3Your process server gives a copy of the summons and petition to your spouse's former college roommate who is staying there for a few weeks.  This is not proper service.  Only people who reside with your spouse can accept constructive service. 

If you cannot accomplish service through personal service or substitute service, then your spouse is likely avoiding service and will have to court to request service by mail, a more difficult process.  

Can I serve divorce papers myself?

No.  Only a non-party to the case who is over the age of 18 can serve divorce papers under Washington law.

Do I have to hire a process server to serve divorce papers on my spouse?

Legally, no.  Practically, you probably should.  

Under Washington law, anyone over the age of 18 who is not a party to a case can initiate service of process on an opposing party.  That means you could ask your friend or a family member or even a work colleague to go to your spouse's house or workplace and give the documents to him or her.

This is easier said than done, however.  What if your spouse refuses?  What if he or she gets in a fight with your friend or family member and causes a scene in public?  What if your friend gets startled and forgets to hand your spouse all the paperwork?  Without proper service, you end up making a stressful divorce process even more stressful, and it hasn't even started.

My recommendation – spend the $130 – 150 and hire a professional to do the job right.

How do I serve divorce papers outside the United States

If your spouse lives in a foreign country, you will have to comply with The Hague Service Convention, an international treaty.

In some countries, like Canada, you may be able to work directly with an international process server.  In other countries, you will have to contact the government directly.  The process is time-consuming, detail-oriented, and potentially very costly.  

This is because you have to navigate Washington law, federal law, and international law, and understand the interplay between all three.

Can I email a copy of my divorce petition to my spouse?

No, unless your spouse agrees to be served by email. 

This might seem surprising, given how prevalent email is today and given how much more wary we are of in-person contact, having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Washington, you cannot effect service of process via email.  You also cannot effect service of process via fax.  You may not like it, but that's the law. 

How long does my spouse have to respond to my divorce petition?

The responding spouse has 20 days to file a written response to your divorce petition if he or she lives in Washington.  If outside Washington, your spouse gets 60 days to respond.   

How long does the divorce process take?

In theory, the entire divorce process in Washington can take as little as 90 days.  This period is known as the "waiting period" or "cooling off" period.  This is to prevent spouses from divorcing after the heat of an argument without thinking through all the legal or practical consequences. 

Of course, in theory, you can drive through downtown Seattle in as little as 15 minutes, but in practice this doesn't happen.  In practice, divorces in Washington can take up to 1 year if not longer to fully resolve, even longer if the case goes to trial. 

My spouse won't agree to a divorce.  Does that matter?


Washington is a no-fault state.  So long as one spouse wants to get divorced, you will be divorced at the end of the court process.  This will happen even if your spouse does nothing at all--refuses to engage, refuses to come to court, refuses to sign anything. If that happens, the court will find your spouse in default, and you can finish the entire process on your own - and have more or less total control over how the court crafts final orders.  

Case Review

Contact us for a Case Review. We are available 24/7, including weekends and holidays.

Seattle Location
206.829.8545 (fax)
Mon: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Tue: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Wed: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Thu: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Fri: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Sat: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Sun: 08:00am - 06:00pm