What Are the Differences Between Contested and Uncontested Divorce in Washington?

May 1, 2023

When you married your spouse, getting a divorce was not something you had in mind. However, times and circumstances change, and you may now feel that divorce is the best option. Divorce will typically fall into one of two categories: contested and uncontested. Below, you will learn more about what they are and their differences, as well as the standard requirements for filing for divorce in the state of Washington.

Divorce Requirements in Washington State

Washington is a no-fault state. This means you do not have to give the court a specific reason that you want to get divorced. As long as one spouse wants the divorce, the court will grant it.

To get a divorce, you or your spouse needs to be a resident of the state to file your petition for divorce. Unlike some other states, there is no specific amount of time you need to have been a resident of the state before you can file, as long as one of you has established residency.

Once the petition is filed with the court and served to your spouse, there is a minimum three-month waiting period before the divorce can be finalized. Of course, the length of time it takes for the divorce will vary based on a range of factors, including whether it is contested or uncontested.

Understanding Contested Divorce in Washington

A contested divorce occurs when the involved parties are not able to agree to various elements of their divorce. These types of divorces will typically have to go to trial, and the judge will be the one who makes the final decisions. When there are areas of disagreement and discontent, the legal process could drag on for months or years.

Naturally, a contested divorce is going to end up costing more in legal fees. It will also create more anxiety and take an emotional toll. The combative nature of this type of divorce affects not only the spouses but also everyone around them, including the children.

Although there are negatives to contested divorces, they are sometimes the only option. When your spouse is not willing to budge on certain areas, when you fear they could be hiding assets, or causing other problems, going through the court system and having a judge be the final arbiter is the best option.

Contested divorces are more involved and complex than uncontested divorces. These types of divorces will usually need savvy legal counsel that can work to represent your interests.

Even though a divorce might start as contested, there is always the option for mediation or a collaborative divorce that can help resolve some of the issues before it goes to trial. This will all depend on the willingness of the spouses to compromise, of course.

When attempts to resolve issues fail, the case will go to trial. While this may be the only resolution for your case, it is important to understand that it’s not always ideal. When the court resolves all of these matters, the judge will have full control over what happens with things like property division, custody, etc. If there is any chance of reaching agreements ahead of time, it is well worth trying.

Steps of a Contested Divorce

The first step in a contested divorce is to gather all relevant documents you will need to help support the claims you are making. The types of documentation needed vary from one case to the next. You may only need some basic financial information, or you could need more detailed documents regarding wages, debts, assets, retirement accounts, etc.

If you are the one filing for divorce, it is a good idea to start gathering this information before you file for divorce. Spouses who receive divorce paperwork tend to be uncooperative.

After you have gathered your paperwork, you should seek the counsel of a divorce lawyer in your area. Let them know about your case, the issues you may have during the divorce with your spouse, the level of conflict, etc. The more information the attorney has the easier it will be for them to help you with your case.

Next, you can file the paperwork with the court, which might include requests for temporary support or other orders that the judge could add.

When the paperwork has been filed, you also need to legally notify your spouse that you are requesting a divorce. The court documents need to be delivered by a third party and not by you. This could be a process server, anyone who is over 18 years old (and not your child), certified mail, or the sheriff’s department. If you are unable to locate your spouse, you could publish notice of the divorce in the local newspaper. After proof of service is finished, you will show the court that the step has been completed.

Your spouse will then have a limited amount of time to respond. They will have 20 days if they were served by someone in the state or 60 days if they were served in person while they were out of state. If they were served by mail, they will have 90 days to respond.

After the paperwork has been filed, you will enter the discovery phase. This simply means that you discover and exchange information with your spouse. This includes disclosing marital and nonmarital assets, debts, income, and other information relevant to the case. Your attorney can help to ensure you have all of the materials you need.

When the discovery process has been completed, you still have the option of finding ways to settle with your spouse rather than going to court, such as through mediation. Even if you can’t work out all of the issues, resolving some of them can help to speed up the trial process. Of course, not all spouses are willing to compromise, and the next step is going to trial.

At the trial, you and your spouse will present your evidence, witness testimony, and other supporting materials to the judge. The judge will then decide on the issues of your case and finalize your divorce.

Understanding Uncontested Divorce in Washington

In an uncontested divorce, neither spouse is considered the defendant in the case. There is no need to bring the case to trial, and it will be faster, simpler, and more affordable than a contested divorce. This type of divorce will legally end your marriage, just as would happen with a contested divorce.

Anyone can file for an uncontested divorce, as long as the spouse agrees to the terms of the settlement. If you still have a few disagreements, which is natural, it’s time to try to hash them out. Try to come up with solutions that will work for both of you. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by working with a third-party mediator. They can help you come to agreements that can work well for both of you, so you can move forward with an uncontested divorce.

Who would be a good candidate for this type of divorce? Those who do not have children and who have few assets to split may find that this is the best option for them. Of course, if you have an amicable relationship with your spouse, it could work even when there are children or a lot of assets that need to be split. It will all depend on the couple involved.

Steps of an Uncontested Divorce

During an uncontested divorce, you will still need to file your petition for divorce, along with other forms with your spouse, such as the confidential information form, summons, acceptance of service, certificate of dissolution, agreement to joint petition, etc. If you and your spouse have children together who are under 18, you will also need to complete forms for child support, a financial declaration, a parenting plan, a residential time summary report, etc.

Although you may feel that you don’t need to have an attorney if you and your spouse agree to the terms of the divorce, it’s still a good idea for both of you to have legal counsel. It tends to be easier to work with attorneys because they can help to ensure you complete all of the necessary forms and that they are filed properly.

Getting an uncontested divorce has some distinct advantages. First, it tends to be far less expensive because no trial will drag out for months or even years. It helps to reduce the number of disputes and has the potential to keep the relationship more amicable. This is particularly important when children are involved.

It also provides you and your spouse with control over all of the aspects of your divorce including splitting your assets, dealing with custody, and more. Most couples agree that finding a way to work out these elements themselves is better than having a judge do it.

Since there is no court hearing with an uncontested divorce, it also means more privacy for everyone involved. Everything is handled “behind the scenes”. If you were to go to court, the divorce case becomes public.

Of course, you will still have to complete a lot of paperwork, and things can become more complicated when you have minor children and custody issues. It could also lead to one spouse having an advantage over the other, especially if there is a history of abuse.

It is a good idea to work with an attorney regardless of whether you have a contested or uncontested divorce. They will ensure your rights are protected and that all paperwork is filled out and filed properly. Get in touch with the specialists at the Aberdeen Law Firm today by calling (425) 441-3055.

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