For many people, divorce is a life-changing emotional and financial decision. It can also be a lengthy process that consumes significant time and energy, depending on factors like shared children and property.
As divorce attorneys serving our local community in Snohomish County and the surrounding area, we believe it’s critical for clients to understand the steps ahead of them. Below is the general process that every divorce must follow in Washington State.
1. Filing a Divorce Petition
Before a couple can begin the legal process for divorce, one spouse must file a petition asking the court to terminate the marriage. In Washington State, the legal petition should include information about:
- Each spouse and their location
- The marriage itself (date and city of the wedding, or the law under which a domestic partnership was converted into a marriage)
- Children and/or if a spouse is currently pregnant
- Information about any prenuptial agreements, separation contracts, or community property agreements that apply to the marriage
- Information about owned land, homes, personal property, and debts
- Any requests for protection orders, restraining orders, or name changes
2. Asking for Temporary Orders
Courts understand that not every couple can wait several months for child custody, child support, or spousal support arrangements. For example, stay-at-home parents who are separating from the main breadwinner in the family may not have the means to wait six months for child and spousal support.
Many divorcing spouses request a temporary order to manage finances or children during the divorce process. If you request a temporary order, the court will usually move quickly to hold a hearing. The temporary order will remain valid until the judge finalizes the divorce or the court orders otherwise.
Beyond children and spousal support, many temporary orders include a request for status quo payments, which require the breadwinner to continue paying marital debts throughout the divorce process. Another common order is for temporary property restraining orders, which prevent either spouse from selling or disposing of any marital property until the divorce is finalized.
3. Getting a Response From Your Spouse
After filing the petition and any requests for temporary orders, you will need to give a copy of the paperwork to your spouse. In addition, you will need to file proof of service with the court, which is a document saying you met the statutory requirements for giving a copy of the petition to your spouse.
This step can be easy if your spouse is willing to sign an acknowledgment of service. However, we occasionally see spouses who disagree with the divorce attempting to delay the process. If your spouse refuses to cooperate with the response step, you can hire a professional who is licensed and experienced in delivering legal documents to difficult parties for a minimal cost.
4. Negotiating a Settlement
Many divorcing spouses have differing opinions on topics like child custody, support, or property division. In these cases, the court may schedule a settlement conference or mediation so the spouses can work toward an agreement.
Mediation often saves significant time and money during the divorce process. In addition, it allows the couple to maintain control over the results and settlements.
Sometimes negotiations between divorcing spouses fail. In these cases, the parties will need to ask the court for help and go to trial. A judge will make the final decision.
5. Finalizing the Divorce
Finally, the judge will sign an order of dissolution to end the marriage. The order will state how the couple will allocate custodial responsibility and parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of finances.
If the parties were able to negotiate a settlement without a trial, the filing spouse’s attorney will typically draft the judgment. Otherwise, the judge will issue the final order.
The Role of a Divorce Attorney
If you are going through a divorce, you should find a divorce attorney to help you through the process. A divorce attorney will represent your interests during trial or negotiations, handle property and debt distribution, represent your rights with regard to child custody, and assist with high conflict situations.
Anderson Hunter divorce attorneys are experienced legal professionals. We can help you handle the complexities of a wide variety of situations, including gray divorce, military divorce, international divorce, and same-sex divorce. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
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