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Do-it-yourself Divorce

We frequently receive inquiries from callers who want to handle their own divorce, and who are seeking resources which will enable them to do everything required in order to complete the process. We cannot begin to cover all the considerations and issues that are involved, but a brief discussion is presented here. We do not necessarily recommend proceeding without an attorney, as there have been numerous cases where we have been called upon to straighten out various "difficulties" after someone started a proceeding on their own and one can do their self a a great disservice by giving up legal rights or running afoul of court rules unknowingly. However, there is no actual "requirement" that you obtain counsel in order to gain a divorce in Washington. Bear in mind that the legal, financial and family issues involved are nearly always complicated notwithstanding what I say below about how the "basic procedure" is not necessarily terribly difficult.

Washington has a ninety day waiting period for divorce filings.

Washington law requires that parties to a divorce proceeding wait at least ninety days before the matter can be finalized. RCW 26.09.030. Thus, the ninety first day after the filing is the earliest date at which one can complete the matter, though in most cases there will be issues causing significant further delay. If the spouse wants to contest anything related to the divorce, the waiting period for a divorce trial in King County is over a year. In certain cases, where one serves their spouse with the initial filing, that service was validly completed within the State of Washington, and that spouse fails to respond in any way, the matter may go to a default and the final judgment may be entered without waiting the full ninety days. For further information on these issues, consult an attorney or, in King County, the Family Law Facilitator at the King County Superior Court.

The basic procedure is paper intensive and but not necessarily terribly complicated.

In Washington, a divorce proceeding begins with the filing of a "Petition." The filing fee is $250.00, unless you prepare and present a "Motion and Declaration for Order to Proceed in Forma Pauperis." Along with the Petition, you will need to file a "Summons," an RCW 26.50 "Identification Information Form," a Department of Health "Certificate of Dissolution," and, in King County, a "Case Area Designation Sheet" and a "Case Indexing Cover Sheet." If there are children to the marriage, you will also need to prepare and file a "Proposed or Agreed Parenting Plan, either with the initial filings or soon thereafter.

Once the filing is complete, you will have to arrange for "Service of Process." This step can be avoided if the spouse signs a "Joinder to the Petition," and it can be simplified if they sign an "Acceptance of Service." Service of Process is the physical presentation of the initial papers to the spouse, or to an adult of "suitable age and discretion" residing in their home. This must be accomplished by an adult who is competent and not a party to the matter. If it is impossible or impractical to locate the spouse, one will need to obtain the Court's permission to perform "Service by Publication."

Once the matter is started, there will be various documents and reports due at various times. The "Case Scheduling Order" issued by King Count Superior Court will help, but the variety of issues which may need to be addressed is beyond the scope of this information page. However, you should pay careful attention to court deadlines in order to avoid the possibility of "sanctions" (fines) or even that your matter might be dismissed outright and you'd have to file all over again. Meanwhile, if there are issues requiring a court ruling (temporary child support amount or debt payments, for example) the court will review these matters on the "Family Law Motions Calendar."

Once the matter is ready for conclusion, either following the determination that the matter is in default, the creation of an agreement, or the ruling on a divorce trial, one or the other party will have to "offer final proof" and present the final papers. "Final proof" is the process of stating, on oath, that the marriage is "irretrievably broken,"and making various other simple statements about the status of the matter. The final papers include a "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law," a "Decree," a "Final Parenting Plan" (where applicable), and an "Order of Child Support." There may be additional documents addressing financial or other issues. A party who has obtained a name change will have to complete an additional form and notify the Department of Vital Statistics, in Olympia.

Do-it-yourself divorce kits are readily available.

You can find copious information about divorce procedures in libraries, on the Internet, or in libraries. The Washington State Courts, Office of the Administrator of the Courts, maintains a website with the court forms and instructions here: http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/?fa=forms.home


A variety of resources are available to assist people in handling their own divorce:
The private business, Washington Legal Blank, Incorporated, sells forms. 1450-19th Av. NW, Issaquah, WA 98027. http://walegalblank.com/
As noted above, the Washington Court forms are available on the Washington State Courts' web page. http://www.courts.wa.gov/
The Family Law Facilitator, in the King County Superior Courthouse (Seattle) and the Regional Justice Center (Kent) can also provide assistance.
A variety of low fee and no fee resources are available for low income persons. Examples include the King County Bar Association, Family Law Mentor Program (call 206 624-9365), and the Columbia Legal Services (call 206 464-5911).

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