No one gets married with plans to get divorced. But when two people are facing irreconcilable differences, divorce is often the best option, even though the process can be difficult and emotional. But if you and your spouse are still on good terms and you believe you could reach agreements without the need for the courts, an uncontested divorce can make the process much easier.
If you’re thinking about getting a divorce but you’re unsure of the process, this guide will give you everything you need to know about an uncontested divorce in Washington State.
What is an Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce in Washington State is a divorce in which neither spouse is the defendant. There’s no need to attend a court hearing and it’s much quicker, easier, and cheaper than a contested divorce.
Since Washington is a no-fault state, there’s no need to prove your spouse did something wrong in order to file for divorce. You only need to show that you are facing irreconcilable differences, no matter what they may be.
What Does an Uncontested Divorce Do?
Just like a contested divorce, an uncontested divorce will legally end your marriage. In the process, all of your assets accumulated during the marriage will be split, and one spouse might receive an alimony payment.
The divorce process may also involve limiting contact if needed and one spouse may change their name if they changed it during the marriage.
What’s the Difference Between an Uncontested Divorce and Legal Separation?
If you’re unsure about an uncontested divorce, you can also get a legal separation. This gives all the same outcomes as an uncontested divorce, but does not legally end your marriage.
This is an option if a divorce isn’t a viable option, such as if your religion doesn’t allow divorce.
However, if you file for a legal separation but your spouse counter-files for a divorce, it’s likely that the divorce will be granted.
Can Anyone File an Uncontested Divorce?
In short, yes. Anyone can file for an uncontested divorce as long as their spouse agrees to the settlement conditions. If they do not want to get divorced or you cannot agree on how to split assets, you’ll need to file for a contested divorce to settle these differences formally.
Also, Washington State has a residency requirement for any divorcing spouse, whether they are contested or uncontested. To prove you reside in Washington State, you’ll need to show proof of one of the following:
- You currently reside in Washington
- Your spouse currently resides in Washington
- Either spouse is a member of the armed forces currently stationed in Washington
Apart from proving residency in Washington State, there are no other prerequisites for filing for uncontested divorce. For the process to work, however, your partner will need to agree on the following:
- Child custody and visitation rights
- Child support payments
- Alimony or spousal support (if required)
- Division of all joint assets
- Division of all debt accrued during the marriage
- All other issues pertaining to your marriage
If you can’t agree on any of these issues, an uncontested divorce will not work and you’ll need to go through the process of a contested divorce. In this instance, the courts will intervene and help resolve any issues.
What if I’m in a Domestic Partnership?
You cannot file for a contested or uncontested divorce if you’re in a domestic partnership. Instead, you must file to end your domestic partnership. Although this is practically the same process as a divorce, there is different paperwork you must submit.
The Uncontested Divorce Process in Washington State
To begin the process of an uncontested divorce, you must know your spouse’s address and both agree on the terms of the divorce.
Washington State Courts have a set of online forms you need to fill out (these are also available as hard copies at all courthouses in Washington). They are free to fill out online but some courthouses require a fee for filling them in in-person.
The forms you’ll fill out are as follows:
- Petition for Divorce (Dissolution)
- Confidential Information Form (and Attachment)
- Acceptance of Service
- Certificate of Dissolution
- Proof of Personal Service
- Agreement to Joint Petition
- Notice of Hearing
- Proof of Mailing (for all documents after you file)
- Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
- Decree of Dissolution
There are additional forms if you and your spouse have children together who are under the age of 18:
- Order of Child Support
- Washington State Child Support Schedule and Economic Table
- Washington State Child Support Worksheets
- Financial Declaration
- Sealed Financial Source Documents
- Parenting Plan
- Residential Time Summary Report
If you do have children, you’ll also be required to attend a divorce education course and provide proof of your attendance during the divorce proceedings.
Pros and Cons of an Uncontested Divorce
Although an uncontested divorce isn’t possible in every divorce case, there are several key benefits of an uncontested divorce in Washington State if it’s a possibility for you:
- Less expensive than a contested divorce
- Minimizes disputes and keeps amicable relationships intact
- More private since court hearings don’t need to be involved
- Easier to split assets equally and keep assets that are important to you
However, there are several disadvantages of an uncontested divorce too:
- Can lead to one spouse having a disproportionate advantage over the other (especially if there is any history of violence or abuse)
- Difficult if your spouse is being difficult or refusing to be cooperative
- Issues arise if you cannot agree on the sharing of assets
- Can be a complicated process if you’re not comfortable with the laws in Washington State
- Can be complicated if you have minor children and need to agree on custody and support payments
- A substantial amount of paperwork to complete
If you would like to go ahead with an uncontested divorce but the paperwork is intimidating, a divorce attorney will be able to help you ensure everything is filled out correctly and you’re getting the fairest terms.
If you’re unsure if an uncontested divorce is the right option for you, a divorce attorney will also be able to review your case and give you their advice on whether this is the best route.
You may have heard that you don’t need an attorney for an uncontested divorce, but it’s actually a much smoother and easier process to have the support of a divorce lawyer who can help guide you through the process and give legal advice as needed.
Ideal Candidates For Uncontested Divorce
The best candidates for an uncontested divorce are a couple with no children, few assets to split, who have an amicable relationship. In this case, there are fewer issues to resolve to make the divorce final.
However, this doesn’t mean those with children and substantial assets cannot get an uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse are both happy to get the divorce and can come to an agreement on assets and terms, an uncontested divorce is the best option.
Where to File
When you’ve filled out the necessary forms, you need to file them in the appropriate county. You can either file them in your home county or the county where your spouse resides (if this differs).
Alternatively, you can file in Lincoln County, which allows non-residents to file divorce papers in its jurisdiction. However, your spouse must consent to the divorce papers being filed in Lincoln County before you can go ahead.
If they don’t approve of filing in Lincoln County, you’ll have to use either your or your spouse’s home county.
Dividing Property & Debts
According to Washington State law, any property acquired during your marriage is community property and must be divided equally. This includes property, earnings, pension benefits and 401(k)s.
Bear in mind that splitting assets “equally” does not always mean a 50/50 split. This needs to be a fair and equitable process that takes into account the nature of the assets, how long the marriage lasted, the economic circumstances of each spouse, and other personal factors.
For example, it might be decided that one spouse will keep the marital home to live in with your children. Even though you bought the house together and technically could request the sale of the house to split the asset.
Any property or assets owned prior to the marriage is not considered community property and will not be subject to the divorce proceedings.
As well as any assets, any debt accrued during the marriage is also considered community debt and the responsibility of paying it is split equally (unless other arrangements are agreed upon during the divorce proceedings).
Uncontested Divorce Attorney Roles
Many people believe that if they file for an uncontested divorce, there is no need to hire a divorce attorney. However, there are still three important roles that professional attorneys may play:
- Counsel for one spouse (if the other is pro se, or acting without an attorney)
- Support for both spouses (to revise and draft documents)
- Mediator between both spouses (if difficulties dividing assets arise)
Let’s take a closer look at each of the roles a divorce attorney can play in an uncontested divorce in Washington State.
The most common role of an attorney is counsel for one spouse. This usually happens when one spouse seeks the advice of an attorney to file the uncontested divorce papers. Although they are acting on behalf of one spouse, both eventually benefit since all legal work is taken care of.
However, this can leave one spouse with a slight advantage since they will get expert legal advice which is tailored to their best interest. Because of this, if your spouse has hired outside counsel, it is a good idea to do the same to ensure the process is as fair as possible.
Support is less common, but involves the attorney advising both parties after the papers have been drafted. If you’ve prepared the papers yourself, an attorney review will ensure that all paperwork is correct. They can also make sure that both parties are happy with the agreements made and give peace of mind that there won’t be any issues when filing.
If you prepare the paperwork yourself, the judge will expect everything to be in perfect order and filed in the correct place. You’ll experience significant delays of paperwork being rejected if everything isn’t in order.
Because of this, even if you don’t need outside counsel, hiring an attorney as support will ensure your paperwork is correct and no delays will happen.
The role of a mediator is slightly more in-depth. The attorney will prepare all legal documents and oversee the process of them being signed. In this case, however, both spouses are advised at the same time and the attorney doesn’t represent one individual.
This is the best role for an uncontested divorce. It means that one spouse doesn’t get an unfair advantage over the other, and both get equal legal advice and representation.
Even if you are on good terms with your spouse, a mediator will help minimize arguments when it comes to splitting assets, which can make the process much smoother.
Filing For Divorce as a Sole Petitioner In Washington
Most people file for an uncontested divorce as a sole petitioner. This means one person wants the divorce and will serve the divorce papers to their spouse (even though they agree to the divorce terms).
The process of filing for divorce as a sole petitioner is quite lengthy. However, this is the most common option. Here are the steps you’ll need to take in Washington:
1. Establish Jurisdiction and Venue
Start by determining which county you can petition for divorce in and find the local courthouse in that county. Remember, this can be your home county, your spouse’s home county, or Lincoln County, but you’ll need permission from your spouse to file in Lincoln if you’re not a resident there.
2. Petition for Dissolution of Marriage
Complete this document and file it with the court clerk to begin your case. This will also require a court fee. The fee can differ between counties, so check with the clerk before filing to ensure you have posted the correct amount.
3. Serve the Summons
Arrange for the summons to be served to your spouse as soon as possible. There are restrictions on who is legally allowed to serve the summons, your local court clerk will give you advice on this.
You and your spouse may choose to hire an attorney to act as support or mediator when reviewing the paperwork. This will ensure you are both happy with the agreement terms. Ensure all paperwork is filled out in full and filed in the correct departments to avoid delays.
A written settlement agreement will be submitted to the Ex Parte Department Commissioner who will need to approve the settlement to make the divorce final.
In an uncontested divorce, the settlement will almost definitely be approved. However, if you have issues reaching agreement on the settlement, a hearing will need to be arranged to come to a legal agreement in front of a judge. This usually isn’t necessary in an uncontested divorce.
To make the settlement as easy as possible, it’s a good idea to arrange a meeting with your spouse along with a mediator to discuss all assets, debt, and child custody (if required) to come to an agreement on all aspects and ensure both parties are happy.
Divorcing As Joint Petitioners
If you and your spouse agree on the divorce from the very beginning, you can also file jointly. In this case, one spouse must still be the petitioner and the other the respondent. The difference is you’ll need to fill out the joinder section of the petition.
This joinder section will be filed with the rest of the petition. You’ll then have to wait 90 days for the courts to finalize the divorce.
After 90 days have passed, you can then file for a dissolution of the marriage. The judge will then review all of your documents and once approved, the divorce will be final.
Although a joint petition may seem like a good option, it’s usually only advisable in the most uncomplicated divorces when the following applies:
- You’ve only been married for 1 to 3 years
- You have no minor children together
- You have no adult children who depend on either you or your spouse
- Neither you nor your spouse is pregnant
- You have less than $30,000 in personal property
- You have less than $15,000 in debt
- Neither you nor your spouse is asking for spousal support
If you are thinking about filing a joint petition, it’s always best to consult an attorney first to see if this is the best option for your circumstances. It’s rare that a divorce is uncomplicated enough to file as joint petitioners with no issues arising.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Uncontested Divorce in Washington State?
An uncontested divorce in Washington State takes an average of three months to complete. Contrastingly, a contested divorce can easily take twelve months or longer, depending on the complexity of the marital assets.
How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost in Washington State?
Most uncontested divorces filed in Washington State cost between $500 and $700. You will also need to pay an additional court filing fee of around $300. This also doesn’t take into account the cost of attorney or mediation fees if required. These will be an additional fee and depend on how long you need the attorney for.
On the other hand, a contested divorce in Washington State costs an average of $20,000 per party (mostly due to attorney fees). This shows the vast difference between the two and the money you can potentially save when filing for an uncontested divorce.
How Long After Divorce Can You Remarry in Washington State?
You are required to wait a minimum of three days before applying for another marriage license in Washington State. However, after this there are no restrictions on remarrying after divorce.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney if My Divorce is Uncontested?
Although you may think a divorce attorney isn’t necessary, it’s surprising how quickly divorce proceedings can become complicated. If you’re still unsure whether hiring a divorce attorney is the right choice, here are some benefits:
- Take care of paperwork
A family law expert will be able to take care of legal paperwork for you and ensure all paperwork is filled out correctly. The last thing you want is delays due to incorrectly filed documents that could have easily been taken care of by a trained attorney.
2. Help avoid arguments
An attorney will mediate and help reduce arguments arising. Even if you think you’ll agree on splitting your assets and debt, arguments quickly arise when one spouse feels unfairly treated. Having outside counsel gives you both a sounding board to reduce arguments and help you reach the fairest compromise possible.
3. Reduce the stress of the process
Filing for a divorce, even an uncontested one, is an emotional and stressful process. Doing it alone can feel like a huge burden, but having an attorney you trust to help you through the process takes away some of the stress and lets you focus on more important life choices like finding a new place to live or spending time with family.
Do You Need a Divorce Attorney in Washington State?
An uncontested divorce can make the separation process easier and less stressful. However, it’s not always possible when one spouse disputes the divorce or you find it difficult to come to agreements on important points such as assets or child custody.
If you’re thinking about getting a divorce and you’d like the advice of an experienced divorce lawyer, get in touch today. We’ll give you our professional advice on the best route for your circumstances and help make the process as straightforward and stress-free as possible.