Service of Process in Washington State Divorce Cases

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Service of Process in Washington State Divorce Cases
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 12/4/2023


Divorce proceedings can be emotionally challenging, and the legal complexities involved can add an extra layer of stress. One crucial aspect of the divorce process in Washington State is ensuring that the respondent is properly served with the divorce petition. This is known as "service of process," and it's a fundamental step to initiate legal action. This standard can be complicated, so coordinating with an attorney is recommended.

1. Personal Service:

Personal service is often considered the most straightforward method of serving divorce papers. It involves delivering the legal documents directly to the respondent in person. This can be done by a professional process server or a competent individual over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case. It's important to note that the person serving the papers must complete an affidavit of service, providing details about when, where, and how the service occurred, which gets filed with the Court.

2. Abode Service:

In certain situations, personal service may prove challenging. Washington State law allows for an alternative method known as abode service. This involves leaving the documents at the respondent's usual place of residence with a person of suitable age and discretion. While technically valid service, abode service is a bit riskier than personal service since it gives the respondent an opportunity to argue for imperfect service.

3. Alternative Service by Publication or Mailing:

When traditional methods are unsuccessful, the court may permit alternative service by publication or mailing. This involves publishing a notice in a newspaper or mailing the documents to the respondent's last known address. While this method is generally considered a last resort, it can be an effective way to proceed when other options have been exhausted. To obtain authorization to file by alternate means, you will require the Court’s permission. The Court will typically require evidence of the diligent efforts made to locate the respondent before approving alternative service.

Respondent's Obligation to Respond:

Upon being served with divorce papers, the respondent is legally obligated to respond within a specific time frame. In Washington State, the respondent generally has 20 days from the date of service to file a response with the court. This response should address the issues raised in the petition, including matters related to property division, spousal support, child custody, and visitation. In Washington state, there is a Court Form required in each case for the Response to the Petition. The time to respond may also differ if alternate or out of state service was effectuated, so speaking with a lawyer after you’ve been served is important.

It's crucial for respondents to understand the significance of responding within the allotted time frame. Failure to do so may result in a default judgment, meaning the court could proceed with the divorce without the respondent's input, potentially impacting the outcome of the case.

Remember, the information provided here is general in nature and not a substitute for professional legal advice. If you have specific questions about your divorce case, it's recommended to consult with a qualified divorce attorney in Washington State. Call the law office of Magnuson Lowell PS today for a free case evaluation.

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