Washington State Divorce Laws

Once deciding to file for divorce there are considerations regarding child custody and property distribution, first one must verify the residency requirements and grounds for filing to be announced on the petition for dissolution of marriage.  Below are the Washington state divorce laws currently in place.

Who Can File for Divorce and On What Grounds?

  • Dissolution of marriage in the state of Washington can be filed when a party to the divorce is a resident of the state, a member of the armed forces and stationed in Washington, or is married to a resident of the state or a member of the armed forces who is stationed in Washington.
  • Once filed, the petition for dissolution of marriage will not be acted upon until 90 days past the date of filing.
  • Washington is a no-fault state, and the only acceptable grounds for dissolution of marriage are “Irretrievable Breakdown of Marriage.”

Division of Property

Washington is a “Community property” state.  All property acquired during the marriage is defined as community and shall be divided equally by the court.  The parties are encouraged to come to an agreement regarding the assets and debts.  If a fair division of property cannot be reached, then the court will render its decision based on the nature and extent of the property deemed separate and that which is acquired during the marriage.  The decision will be based on several factors including but not limited to the duration of the marriage, the economic situation of both spouses at time of separation and the child custody decision, if any.

Child Custody

Child custody is inevitably a very difficult part of divorce. Washington courts must consider the best interests of the child as the most important factor when deciding custody and they will do everything in their power to lessen the emotional trauma on the children.   The court will encourage parents to present a plan of custody to the court on their own, if they are unable to do so, the court decision will be made.  In either case, a permanent parenting plan must be presented defining the parents’ method of dealing with the custody arrangements, including: how the child’s needs will be provided for as the child grows, authority and responsibility of each parent, how to best shield the child from parental disputes, in general to provide care in the best interests of the child.

This parenting plan will allow the authority to make decisions to the appropriate party regarding specifically the child’s general care, religious affiliation, and education.  The day to day care of the children will be handled by the parent that the child resides with.

The parenting plan is a binding document and if a parent fails to comply they may be found in contempt of court.  This is true regardless of the other parent’s attention to the parenting plan and willingness or effort to comply with it.


Child support in Washington State is determined based on the Income Shares Model.  The formula determines the appropriate amount and it is divided proportionally between the parents based on each parents’ income.

Spousal support is not automatically considered in all divorce cases in Washington.  If a case calls for temporary or permanent support of one spouse form the other, the court will determine the amount based on several factors, including the financial status of both spouses, the age, physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking support, the ability of the spouse to provide maintenance, to furnish that and maintain their own financial well-being.  The court will consider other relevant factors as it sees fit.