Washington Uncontested Divorce: A Client Friendly Guide
The other day I met with a potential client and we discussed the benefits of Washington uncontested divorce. In her case and most likely in yours, an uncontested divorce will save time and money.
What is a Washington uncontested divorce? An uncontested divorce occurs when a couple files for divorce and has agreed to terms. Typically an agreement is reached prior to filing the case, but it can occur shortly after if the respondent joins the petition. Keep in mind, an uncontested divorce is different than a settlement, which is an agreement signed at the end of a contested case to avoid trial.
I encourage clients who are on good enough terms to still work with their spouse to try to reach a fair agreement on their own. Once they have the foundation in place, an attorney can be a big help with implementation and ironing out the specifics. If you’d like to learn more please keep reading.
- Ideal candidates for uncontested divorce
- Can anyone file an uncontested divorce
- Major benefits of uncontested divorce
- Drawbacks to uncontested divorce
- When do we have to agree for a case to be uncontested?
- Why should I hire an attorney if my divorce is uncontested?
- Three uncontested divorce attorney roles
- The uncontested divorce process in six steps
Who is the ideal candidate for an uncontested divorce?
The common answer is that spouses with no children and few assets are the best candidates for uncontested divorce, but I disagree. The reason uncontested divorce is recommended for people without children or property is that there are far less issues that need to be resolved. Therefore, in those situations a couple wouldn’t have to agree on much in order to file an uncontested divorce.
While I think most simple cases should be uncontested, anyone willing to compromise can file an uncontested divorce. In my opinion, the best candidates for uncontested divorce are people who are on good enough terms to discuss the issues and motivated to reach an agreement.
No matter how many children or assets you have, you can file an uncontested divorce. Spouses without kids or with fewer assets will just have less decision points and an easier time with the paperwork.
Can anyone file an uncontested divorce?
Yes, anyone can file an uncontested divorce. The only thing that could stop you is if your spouse is unwilling to cooperate. If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse or they are just unwilling to sign the divorce paperwork you’ll need to move forward with a contested case.
What are the major benefits of uncontested divorce?
The main appeal of uncontested divorce is that it saves people time and money. The average contested divorce in Washington costs $27,310, but an uncontested divorce can be handled for a fraction of that price because it takes much less time.
For example, an early agreement removes the need for temporary order hearings, which can be expensive. Also, when spouses put together their own agreement they save money on an attorney, who would have negotiated for them. Lastly, the life of the case is condensed from 11+ months to 90 days, so the various hearings, paperwork, and other court requirements along the way to trial are removed.
In addition to the time and money saved, people find it is an emotionally easier experience. For instance, when you agree to terms you retain control of the outcome; a judge doesn’t decide for you. This removes a lot of the stress and uncertainty from divorce. In addition, by working with your spouse to reach a fair agreement you both can leave the relationship on amicable terms, which is rare once a case becomes contested.
Are there drawbacks to uncontested divorce?
When done properly uncontested divorce is the least expensive and healthiest way to end a marriage, but sometimes there can be issues with the process. Mainly, one of the spouses may not feel comfortable discussing the divorce terms with the other.
It’s possible that they feel pressured or intimidated by the other spouse. It may be that they just don’t feel they have the knowledge to put together a fair agreement. In either case it can lead to a situation where one person is at a disadvantage.
In these cases, it’s smart for the disadvantaged spouse to consult an attorney. Frankly, if you don’t feel comfortable negotiating with your spouse ask for help. Speaking with an attorney doesn’t mean you can’t file an uncontested divorce, just that you don’t want to do it alone.
If you have a tentative agreement in place, you can evaluate it with the attorney. Similarly, if you are still discussing a plan you can get some insight on what to expect.
When do we have to agree for a case to be uncontested?
When it comes to Washington uncontested divorce, the most common time for spouses to reach an agreement is before the case is filed. By agreeing beforehand, you’ll have less paperwork to prepare and fewer steps to take after the case is filed. When spouses agree, they’ll file a joint divorce petition, signed by both parties.
Alternatively, just one of the spouses may file the case as a sole petitioner before an agreement is reached. This might happen if the other spouse did not know the divorce was coming or just refused to sign the paperwork.
Once the case is filed, the sole petitioner will need to serve their spouse the appropriate documents. At this point, the spouse who is served will have the chance to join the petition. If they do, the case will proceed as an uncontested divorce and can be finalized 90 days later.
Why should I hire an attorney if my divorce is uncontested?
An attorney will make the process as easy as possible. He or she will provide you with concrete facts and set expectations. An attorney should make it easier for you to communicate with your spouse and finalize any issues. You’ll also know that your paperwork is prepared correctly.
Also, the divorce will be done fast. An uncontested divorce can be processed in as little as ninety-one days and hiring an attorney will make sure it gets done on time. One of the big drawbacks to handling your divorce without legal help is the risk of making a mistake. Mistakes are common when people represent themselves. At a minimum an error will delay the divorce and in some cases lead to major headaches.
Uncontested divorce attorney roles
Three common roles for a Washington uncontested divorce attorney are (1) counsel for one spouse, while the other is pro se (acting without an attorney); (2) support for one spouse to review and advise on drafted documents; and (3) mediator between both spouses.
Keep in mind an attorney may only represent one spouse in a divorce. I’m often asked to make an exception for a couple that gets along and has already decided what’s fair. Although even if you agree, technically you have competing interests.
The role of counsel is most common. In this scenario only the represented spouse meets with the attorney, who prepares the legal forms based on the clients direction. How does the unrepresented spouse benefit? Legal advice on complicated issues like spousal support, parenting plans, and property division can improve the agreement overall and benefit both spouses.
The main drawback is that the pro se spouse may miss out on beneficial legal counsel. The attorney will not be in contact with the pro se spouse, so advice may be forgotten or held back when the spouses negotiate. Of course both spouses must sign the documents before court approval. A pro se spouse will have the chance to reject any forms that don’t reflect his or her expectations.
Think of the support role as an advisor. Typically the support attorney is brought in after the divorce forms are drafted. If your spouse asks you to sign prepared forms, a second review from an attorney can be valuable. In addition, if you prepared the forms through a Do-It-Yourself tool, an attorney review can be invaluable.
Approval from a legal expert gives both parties the sense that they reached a fair agreement and provides peace of mind. If you plan to hire an attorney for review, make sure to know the initial attorney’s policy regarding updates to completed forms. You may save on legal fees by seeking advice before the documents are drafted.
The last role as mediator is much different. In this role the attorney acts as a general advisor and prepares the legal forms. Since both spouses are involved, the attorney does not represent either as a client.
Curious how this works? Here’s an example. The mediator could show the couple how a court would calculate spousal support, but cannot recommend how much one spouse should ask for.
A successful mediation session will resolve any remaining disputes, educate the spouses on best practices, and conclude with an approved plan. This leads to a low cost and low conflict solution. However, it does carry two notable risks. First, the spouses may miss out on individual legal advice. Second, if mediation fails the mediator cannot continue to work on the divorce as an attorney.
Uncontested divorce process in six steps
Step 1: Discuss the terms of the divorce with your spouse to see if an agreement is possible and what the terms will look like.
Step 2: Prepare your divorce forms. You can find them here or work with an attorney who can either prepare them for you or explain the process to you.
Step 3: Get an expert’s opinion. If you haven’t hired an attorney already now is the time to meet with an attorney and make sure everything is in order. Getting things right the first time, ensures your divorce is processed on time and ensures that the agreement is built for the long term, so that you don’t end up back in court to resolve something you missed.
Step 4: File the case and send your spouse the required notice. Depending on if you filed in person or by mail, you’ll have different requirements. Make sure to comply with all the deadlines and directions.
Step 5: Attend any required classes. Different counties have varying requirements, but it’s common for pro-se filers to attend an introduction to family law class, as well as a parenting class if there are children involved.
Step 6: Finalize the case after 90 days. If you filed by mail, the court will process your paperwork after the deadline. If you filed in person you’ll need to head to ex-parte court and get a commissioner’s signature.
Hopefully you can see the benefits of choosing an uncontested divorce. If you have questions or would like more information about how the Washington uncontested divorce process works call 206.409.4086 or send us an email.