My spouse lives outside the country. Can I file for divorce in Washington?
Under Washington law, you can file for divorce if you live in Washington, even if your spouse doesn't.
RCW 26.09.030 only requires that you be a “resident” of the state at the time you file. This means one of these four (4) situations applies:
- 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.
In other words, it does not matter whether your spouse lives in the same county as you do, in Washington, or even outside the country.
Example: You and your spouse were married in Saudi Arabia. Two months ago, you both relocated to Mount Vernon. You separated shortly thereafter, and your husband returned to Saudi Arabia.
You can file for divorce in Skagit County because you are a resident of Skagit County.
However, a Washington court must be able to exercise personal jurisdiction over spouse before you can get all the legal relief you may be seeking. For example, if the court does not have personal jurisdiction, your spouse cannot be ordered to pay child support or spousal maintenance (alimony).
My spouse already filed for divorce abroad. Can I still for divorce in Washington?
Under federal law, no state is required to recognize or honor a divorce decree issued in a foreign country. The United States is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Recognition of Divorces and Legal Separations, which mandates recognition of foreign divorces.
For this reason, a Washington court does not have to recognize a foreign divorce. That said, Washington will generally recognize a foreign divorce under the legal principal of comity, assuming certain conditions are met.
For example, if the parties live in Canada but they file for and obtain a divorce in Mexico, a Washington court will very likely not recognize the Mexican divorce. Why? Because neither spouse lived in Mexico at the time of the divorce. This makes sense, because Washington itself could not enter a divorce if neither party lived or had at least some connection to the state.
Put another way, Washington will likely honor a foreign divorce if the divorce would not violate foreign law or run afoul of Washington public policy.
You can record your certified foreign divorce decree with the county auditor's office. You must file documents in English, so if your divorce decree is not in English, you will need to get the document translated.
How do I serve my spouse in a foreign country?
If your spouse lives abroad, you have to follow the service of process rules in the country in which your spouse resides.
You need to start by understanding the Hague Service Convention. The Hague Service Convention is a multinational treaty that governs service of process among its member states.
In simplest terms, the Hague Convention lays out the methods by which you can serve your spouse in another country if that country is a member of the Convention.
Many countries, including Canada, Mexico, Korea, and India, as well as the United States, are members of the Hague Convention.
Generally speaking, under the Hague Convention, you can serve your spouse internationally in one of three (3) ways:
- Service through the country's Central Authority
The term “Central Authority” means the state agency that the government designates to receive and carry out service of process. The Department of Justice, for example, is the designated central authority in the United States, but DOJ has actually outsourced this responsibility to ABC Legal Services, which is located in Seattle.
In many countries, like Mexico, the Central Authority is some sort of governmental or official agency.
- Service by “competent persons” in the foreign country
In practice, this means you hire a foreign process server to serve the summons and divorce petition on your spouse in that country.
- Service by mail
Of course, you will have to prove that your spouse received the mail.
Here's where it gets complicated. Not every country permits all three methods of service. Many countries, like Poland, do not allow service by mail. In others, such as India, Korea, and Mexico, you must go through the Central Authority—no exceptions.
And going through the Central Authority comes with its own minefields. You have to fill out a specific request and very likely will have to get it translated into that country's native language, even if your spouse speaks fluent English.
In short, don't try international service of process on your own. Consult an attorney.
Can I serve my spouse the divorce documents by email?
It's not clear whether the Hague Convention permits electronic service. There was obviously no email in 1965, when the Convention was implemented, but some courts have interpreted the service by “mail” language in the treaty to allow for service by “electronic mail.”
But regardless of whether the Hague Convention allows for email service, Washington State does not. In Washington, you can serve your spouse via personal service, substitute service, or service by regular mail. But not email.
How long does my spouse have to respond to the divorce petition?
Under Washington law, your spouse must respond to the divorce petition within 20 days. However, with international service, your spouse gets 60 days to respond after receiving your documents.