Understanding the Washington Divorce Process

At a time when your life can feel like it is in chaos, sometimes even the smallest bit of predictability can bring a sense of comfort. The outcome of many aspects of your divorce may be unknown, but quality advice and guidance can provide much needed clarity. 

While initially intimidating, there is one part of your divorce that does have some measure of predictability, and that is the divorce process itself. Most divorces proceed in a step-by-step manner. Despite the uniqueness of your divorce, you can generally count on one phase of your divorce following the next. Sometimes simply realizing you are completing stages and moving forward with your divorce can reassure you it will not go on forever.

Develop a basic understanding of the divorce process. This will lower your anxiety when your attorney starts talking about “depositions” or “going to trial.” It can reduce your frustration about the length of the process because you understand why each step is needed. It will allow you to begin preparing for what comes next.  Most importantly, understanding the divorce process will make your journey easier. Who wouldn’t prefer that?

The divorce process in Washington typically involves the following steps:

  1. Obtain a referral for an attorney.
  2. Schedule an appointment with an attorney.
  3. Prepare questions and gather needed documents for initial consultation.
  4. Meet for initial consultation with attorney.
  5. Pay retainer to attorney and sign retainer agreement.
  6. Provide requested information and documents to your attorney.
  7. Take other actions as advised by attorney, such as opening or closing financial accounts.
  8. Attorney prepares petition for dissolution (divorce) and supporting documents for your review and signature.
  9. Attorney files petition for dissolution with clerk of the court. Attorney obtains ex parte restraining orders if appropriate. Attorney obtains hearing date for temporary matters.
  10. Mandatory 90-day waiting period begins when other spouse is served or signs an acceptance of service.
  11. Negotiations begin regarding terms of temporary order on matters such as custody, support, and temporary possession of the family home. Attorneys prepare declarations, financial affidavits and child support worksheets for temporary hearing.
  12. Temporary hearing held OR Parties reach agreement on temporary order.
  13. Temporary order is prepared by one attorney, approved as to form by other attorney, and submitted to the judge for signature.
  14. If there are minor children, parties must attend a parent education class, develop a parenting plan, or participate in mediation as required by their particular county.
  15. Both sides conduct discovery to obtain information regarding all relevant facts. If needed, obtain valuations of all assets, including expert opinions.
  16. Ask your attorney for a litigation budget to help you anticipate and prepare for the overall cost of litigation.
  17. Confer with attorney to review facts, identify issues, assess strengths and weaknesses of case, review strategy, and develop proposal for settlement.
  18. Spouses, guided by their attorneys, attempt to reach agreement through written proposals, mediation, settlement conferences, or other negotiation.
  19. Parties reach agreement on all issues.
  20. Attorney prepares decree of dissolution and required supporting court orders for approval by spouses and attorneys OR certificate of readiness for trial is filed with court asking that a trial date is set or a trial date is set by the court pursuant to a case scheduling order.
  21. Pay trial retainer to fund the work needed to prepare for trial and services for the day or days of trial.
  22. Parties prepare for trial on unresolved issues OR trial preparations proceed and include the preparation of witnesses, trial exhibits, legal research on contested issues, pretrial motions, trial brief, preparation of direct and cross examination of witnesses, preparation of opening statement, subpoena of witnesses, and closing argument to the court.
  23. Meet with attorney for final trial preparation.
  24. Trial
  25. Judge makes decision.
  26. Attorney prepares decree.
  27. Other attorney approves it as to form.
  28. Decree submitted to judge for signature.
  29. Judge signs decree of dissolution. Make payments and sign documents (deeds or titles) pursuant to decree.
  30. Documents required to divide retirement accounts and ensure the payment of child support submitted to the court.
  31. Pay any remaining balance due on attorney’s fees or receive refund.

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