Washington State Divorce Laws

Unhappy Couple
Tetra Images/ Getty Images 

To file for a dissolution of marriage or a legal separation, the following residency requirements apply:

  • A resident of this state.
  • A member of the armed forces and is stationed in this state.
  • Married to a party who is a resident of this state or who is a member of the armed forces and is stationed in this state. Such proceeding may be filed in the superior court of the county where the petitioner resides.

[Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.010 and 26.09.030]

Legal Grounds for Divorce

The only legal grounds for a divorce in the state of Washington is that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If one party denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to the filing of the petition and the prospects for reconciliation and shall:

  • Make a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken and enter a decree of dissolution of the marriage.
  • At the request of either party or on its own motion, transfer the cause to the family court, refer them to another counseling service of their choice, and request a report back from the counseling service within sixty days, or continue the matter for not more than sixty days for the hearing.

[Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.030]

Legal Separation

The parties to a marriage, in order to promote the amicable settlement of disputes attendant upon their legal separation or upon the filing of a petition for dissolution of their marriage, a decree of legal separation, or declaration of invalidity of their marriage, may enter into a written separation contract providing for the maintenance of either of them, the disposition of any property owned by both or either of them, the parenting plan and support for their children and for the release of each other from all obligation except that expressed in the contract. [Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.070]

Mediation or Counseling Requirements

In any proceeding under this chapter, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issues before or concurrent with the setting of the matter for hearing. The purpose of the mediation proceeding shall be to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties and to develop an agreement assuring the child's close and continuing contact with both parents after the marriage is dissolved. The mediator shall use his or her best efforts to effect a settlement of the dispute. [Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.015]

Property Distribution

Washington state is a community property state, meaning that property and debts acquired during the marriage shall be split equally unless the parties reach an agreement independent of a court ruling. Should the matter be decided by the court, the following factors will be taken into consideration:

  • The nature and extent of the community property.
  • The nature and extent of the separate property.
  • The duration of the marriage.
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to a spouse with whom the children reside the majority of the time.

Divorce and Alimony in Washington State

Alimony may be ordered for either spouse in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, after considering all relevant factors including but not limited to:

  • The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including separate or community property apportioned in the settlement agreement, and the ability to meet his or her needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party;
  • The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find employment appropriate to his skill, interests, style of life, and other attendant circumstances;
  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age, physical and emotional condition, and financial obligations of the spouse seeking maintenance; and
  • The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his needs and financial obligations while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.

[Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.090]

Spouse's Name

Upon request of a party whose marriage is dissolved or declared invalid, the court shall order a former name restored or the court may, in its discretion, order a change to another name. [Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapter 26.09.150]


The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child's emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care. Further, the best interest of the child is ordinarily served when the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is altered only to the extent necessitated by the changed relationship of the parents or as required to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm. If the parents cannot reach an agreement concerning the child custody and parenting provisions for children of the marriage, then the court may establish either sole or mutual decision making authority and residential provisions considering the following factors:

  • The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child (this factor shall be given the most weight).
  • The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily.
  • Each parent's past and potential for future performance of parenting functions.
  • The emotional needs and developmental level of the child.
  • The child's relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities.
  • The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule.
  • Each parent's employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

The court may order that a child frequently alternate his or her residence between the households of the parents for brief and substantially equal intervals of time only if the court finds the following:

  1. There is no evidence of willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions; physical, sexual, or a pattern of emotional abuse of a child; or a history of acts of domestic violence as defined in RCW 26.50.010.
  2. The parties have agreed to such provisions and the agreement was knowingly and voluntarily entered into; or have a satisfactory history of cooperation and shared performance of parenting functions; the parties are available to each other, especially in geographic proximity, to the extent necessary to ensure their ability to share performance of the parenting functions.
  3. The provisions are in the best interests of the child.

[Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapters 26.09.002, 26.09.187, and 26.09.191]


Washington uses the "Income Shares" model to determine the level of child support to be paid. This means that the combination of both parents income is used to determine the basic child support obligation. The provisions for determining child support and reasons for deviation from the standard calculation shall be applied in the same manner by the court, presiding officers, and reviewing officers. An order for child support shall be supported by written findings of fact upon which the support determination is based and shall include reasons for any deviation from the standard calculation and reasons for denial of a party's request for deviation from the standard calculation. The court shall enter written findings of fact in all cases whether or not the court:

  • Sets the support at the presumptive amount, for combined monthly net incomes below five thousand dollars.
  • Sets the support at an advisory amount, for combined monthly net incomes between five thousand and seven thousand dollars.
  • Deviates from the presumptive or advisory amounts.

Worksheets in the form developed by the administrative office of the courts shall be completed under penalty of perjury and filed in every proceeding in which child support is determined. The court shall review the worksheets and the order setting support for the adequacy of the reasons set forth for any deviation or denial of any request for deviation and for the adequacy of the amount of support ordered. Each order shall state the amount of child support calculated using the standard calculation and the amount of child support actually ordered. Worksheets shall be attached to the decree or order or if filed separately shall be initialed or signed by the judge and filed with the order.

In entering or modifying a support order under this chapter, the court shall require either or both parents to maintain or provide health insurance coverage, for any child named in the order if:

  • Coverage that can be extended to cover the child is or becomes available to that parent through employment or is union-related.
  • The cost of such coverage does not exceed twenty-five percent of the obligated parent's basic child support obligation.

[Based on Washington State Revised Code - Title 26 - Chapters 26.09.105, 26.19.050, and 26.19.035]

Watch Now: 9 Signs He or She Might be Cheating on You?