So the question is, can you file your own divorce in Washington? Yes, anyone can file a DIY divorce in Washington. Online resources, family law facilitators at the courthouse, and attorneys can simplify the paperwork for you. You’ll also find the filing process is straightforward. The real question is should you file your own divorce?
In order to decide if self-filing is right for you, I’ve summarized the basics below, so you can make the best choice for yourself.
- What is a DIY divorce?
- Describe the DIY divorce process
- How much does a DIY divorce cost?
- How long will a DIY divorce take?
- Benefits of DIY divorce
- Common mistakes made during DIY divorce
A do it yourself divorce, also known as pro se or online divorce, is a divorce filed and finalized by a person not represented by an attorney. While the divorce filer is officially unrepresented, they often hire a divorce professional to help with specific parts of the process. For example, you could hire an attorney to complete the child support calculations, which people often get stuck on.
This method is best used in uncontested cases. In an uncontested divorce both parties have reached an agreement that they believe is fair and the risks of self-representation are reduced.
Of course, anyone can represent themselves in a contested case as well, but that is not advisable. Family law and divorce procedures are complicated. If your spouse has an attorney you’ll be at a severe disadvantage in a situation with long-term consequences.
First step: Reach an agreement with your spouses.
This is often the biggest hurdle for people. Hopefully, you’re on good enough terms with your spouse to discuss the important issues like parenting plans, finances, and property division.
Second step: Draft your divorce documents.
You can download the forms from your local courts website and fill them out by hand. However, I’d recommend getting them from an attorney or the family law facilitator, so you know you have all the necessary pieces. They can also coach you on how to fill out the documents.
Third step: File the forms with the court.
In most cases it is best to file by mail. There are two counties in Washington, Wahkiakum and Lincoln, which process mail-in divorces. They don’t require a court appearance and they will finalize the divorce 90 days after they receive your paperwork. For specifics read my Ultimate Guide To Divorce By Mail In Washington State.
If you’d prefer to file locally, file your forms at the clerk’s office in your local county superior court. After the case is filed, you’ll enroll in an introduction to family law class. There is also a parenting class if there are children. Keep in mind, filing by mail lets you skip these local class requirements.
Final step: Finalize the divorce decree.
Once 90 days pass, return to the courthouse. Head to the ex-parte courtroom where a commissioner will review your forms and finalize the divorce. FYI, you may need to schedule this ahead of time depending on the court.
At a minimum you should expect to pay the divorce filing fee, which is currently $324 in Wahkiakum County. After that the end cost is determined by how you choose to prepare the paperwork.
There are websites that will prep divorce forms and send you filing instructions for as low as $135 on up to $1500. My opinion is biased since I compete with those sites, but if all you get are computer-generated divorce documents you’re asking for problems. Those sites operate nationally and have to keep up to date on changes in local court requirements throughout the country. Expect to see mistakes in the forms.
Before you submit your forms to the court it would wise to take the forms to an attorney. Seattle attorneys range from $200-$400 per hour, but may also offer a flat rate to review and revise your forms.
Paying for an hour or two of time just to make sure everything is in order and to discuss issues you may have missed is money well spent. At the end of the day you’re saving thousands when compared to the typical costs of divorce.
At Truce Law, we offer a variety of flat rate packages to people who want to handle some steps of the divorce process on their own. In these cases the person files pro se, meaning without an attorney, and only pays for the pieces they need. Click here for more information on our pro se divorce option.
You can complete the whole process in 90 days. Washington requires 90 days to pass before it will finalize any divorce filed with the court. This is known as the “cooling off period” and is meant to give people the chance to reconcile in case they made the decision in the heat of the moment.
As I’ve said before reaching an agreement is usually the biggest hurdle for clients. Once spouses have an agreement in place they can draft the paperwork and file the same day.
Cost Savings: It’s the cheapest form of divorce because you take on a lot of the work yourself. As long as you enjoy learning new things, have time to research the process, and pay attention to the details you will be able to save yourself money.
Control: When you file your own divorce you and your spouse make the agreement, not a judge, mediator, or lawyer. This gives you a lot of control over the outcome of the process, which is generally a good thing. Uncertainty in divorce is one aspect that keeps people up at night, but the DIY process removes the unknown by allowing the spouses to decide on what’s fair.
I see a lot of self prepared divorce forms that lack specifics, especially parenting plans. Almost every time my client will say that they have a good relationship now, so they don’t need a detailed parenting plan because they’ll be able to agree on any changes as they come up. What I tell my clients is to think of the parenting plan like a rock band agreement.
Right now everyone is on good terms, so it’s easy to make rational decisions about holidays and weekday schedules, just like a new band can agree on royalties and song rights before anyone is famous. Just understand that life happens and things change. Even the Beatles broke up, so it’s better to decide on specifics now when you’re on good terms, instead of trying later when Yoko Ono is in the picture.
If you don’t add specifics now, you’ll end up in court later to decide on the details you left out.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is an agreement without deadlines. If an action needs to be taken, make sure that you include the date it should be done. When there are no deadlines, there are no consequences for putting things off and you end up with an unenforceable agreement.
Bargaining with child support
Many people think that because they are setting the terms of their divorce they’re able to agree to anything they’d like. When it comes to spousal support and property division spouses have a lot of freedom, but child support is another story. It’s calculated by precise formulas provided by the state and if you want to agree to an amount that doesn’t line up with the formula you’ll need an acceptable reason for the deviation.
Taking a major asset without financial flexibility
The most common example of this occurs when a parent decides to stay in the family home. Many parents want their children to stay in the same household after divorce, but don’t have the resources to pay for the home if anything goes wrong.
For example, a stay at home parent may keep the home, but be unable to get a new job as fast as expected. Other times people will be injured in a car accident or get seriously ill and be unable to work. If they were just getting by before, they’ll fall behind on the mortgage, be forced to take on debt, and often lose the home.
Without financial flexibility it’s easy to end up in bad financial shape if just a couple things go wrong. When dividing the property, be honest with yourself and make sure you have a safety net if you decide to keep a major asset.
Not Asking For Help
While I think taking control of the divorce process is great, I don’t think you should do it all alone. If you can afford an hour with an attorney, schedule a meeting. If you can’t afford help, look for a clinic in your area that offers free legal advice.
A divorce decree, especially one involving children, can impact you for years. Take the time to find help. An expert can help you spot problems you didn’t even know existed.
Hopefully you now have enough information to decide if a do it yourself divorce is right for you. It will take more work on your end, but you’ll save money as long as you make the effort to get your paperwork right before filing. If you have questions or would like more information about how Truce Law can help you file your own divorce call me at 206.409.4086 or send us an email.