How do I file for divorce in Whatcom County?
Unlike many counties, such as King and Snohomish, e-filing is not (yet) available in Whatcom County.
You may file your initial divorce pleadings (summons and petition for dissolution) in one of three (3) ways. You may deliver your documents in-person to the clerk's office, hire a process server, or mail them to the clerk's office.
You must address all documents to Whatcom County Superior Court Clerk, 311 Grand Avenue, Suite 301, Bellingham, WA 98225.
Upon receiving your summons and divorce petition, the court will enter automatic temporary orders. As part of these orders, you and your spouse cannot transfer or dispose of any of your marital property and bank accounts. These temporary orders remain in effect until the court enters final orders after trial, or you and your spouse / other parent settle the case beforehand.
How much does it cost to file for divorce?
As with most counties in Washington, the filing fee in Whatcom County is $314. This does not include the costs of serving your spouse, and attorney's fees.
Can you electronically file documents in Whatcom County?
What happens after I file for divorce?
First, you must serve the divorce papers on your spouse, if you have not done so already. (I recommend you serve before you file. Filing is easier. Serving can be more challenging).
You should then register for a parenting seminar, if minor children are involved. Under the superior court's local family law rules, you have to register for a seminar within 30 days after you have hired a lawyer or filed some type of pleading in the case (i.e. a response to the petition). Upon registering, you then have 60 days to attend the seminar.
Failure to attend the seminar can subject you to contempt.
Within 30 days of beginning the case, you will also have to complete, file, and serve on your spouse a financial declaration, which lays out your finances in detail. You will also have to provide your spouse with supporting documents, such as credit card statements, bank statements, retirement accounts, and investment-related information (if applicable).
Then, after you attend the mandatory parenting seminar, you have to file and serve a proposed parenting plan within 14 days. In this proposal, you recommend which parent should get full physical or legal custody, and you address all other parenting-related issues, such as vacation time, holiday schedule, and domestic and international travel conditions.
Can I appear for court remotely?
In Whatcom County, you can appear remotely via Zoom for all family law hearings, unless the court specifically requires in-person appearance.
Even then, however, you can file a motion to appear remotely if good cause exists. You are sick, for instance, or you are out of town.
When will my trial take place?
The clerk's office will not assign you a trial date when you file for divorce. To get a trial date, you will file a notice of trial setting with the clerk's office, which prompts the clerk to schedule a trial date.
Once a trial date is scheduled, you will have to comply with other pretrial deadlines.
Do we have to engage in mediation before trial?
In this respect, Whatcom County is similar to most counties. You and your spouse / other parent must hire a mediator, request a court-appointed mediator, or engage in some sort of arbitration service before you can get a trial date.
The only exception if there is an active no-contact order or protection order between the two of you. Also, if the court has already determined that one of you has committed domestic violence, then the court will waive the mediation requirement.
You can also file a motion to waive the mediation requirement, but you have to show “good cause,” but expect the court will deny your motion unless you really have a good reason (i.e. you and your spouse are so far apart that nothing short of trial will work). Even then, the court will probably deny your motion.
When are family law hearings held in Whatcom County?
Family law hearings Tuesday through Friday at 1:30 pm, depending on court availability.
I need to file for a restraining order. When do those take place?
IF you file for a protection order or domestic violence protection order, the court will schedule a hearing Monday at 9:00 am or 1:30 pm, or Thursday at 9:00 am, depending on which court commissioner will be hearing your case.
How do I schedule a court hearing in Whatcom County?
You can file and schedule your motion online through the clerk's office. You have to file your motion and all supporting documents with the clerk's office no later than 12:00pm, nine (9) court days before the hearing.
After receiving your motion, your spouse / the other parent must file a response no later than 12:00 pm, 4 court days before hearing.
Finally, you have the option of filing a reply to your spouse's response no later than 12:00 pm, two (2) days before the hearing.
These deadlines, as well as detailed instructions for filing and serving family law motions, can be found in the Whatcom County Superior Court Local Rules.
Important: “Court days” do not include weekends or holidays. Two (2) judicial days, for instance, may mean a lot more than two regular day.
Example: Your temporary orders hearing is set for January 2, 2024. Your reply documents are due on December 28, 2023. Because December 30 is a Saturday, December 31 is a Sunday, and New Year's Day is a holiday, December 29 is considered the first court day and January 2 is considered the second court day.
Finally, the court will not hear your motion or hearing unless you confirm it no later than 12:00 pm, two (2) days before the hearing. You can confirm by phone or email.
Which judge will preside over my hearing?
Unless and until your case goes to trial, a court commissioner will preside over your court hearings, including any temporary order hearings.
A court commissioner is a full-time judicial officer who supports the judges in managing their family law caseload. Although they are not technically judges, they exercise the full power and authority as a judge.
If you are unhappy with the commissioner's decision, you have the right to file a motion for revision. This is a special type of appeal in which you ask one of the full-time judges to review the commissioner's hearing. The judge may modify or change the hearing based on further argument.
Under RCW 2.24.050, you have up to 10 days to file a motion for revision.
Will I be able to testify at the hearing?
In most cases, the court commissioner will rule after reviewing your written pleadings (i.e. motions, declarations, exhibits) and listening to oral argument.
In “unusual circumstances” (this is what the local rules say), the court will allow oral testimony. But don't count on this happening, so it is important you make your written pleadings as clear and comprehensive as possible.
Will I have a jury trial?
No. In Whatcom County, as in all divorce cases, you do not have a right to a jury trial. A judge will preside over your case. In rare cases, a court commissioner will hear your case.