In the broadest sense, every single divorce in Washington state is technically contested. To file for divorce, one spouse must bring a lawsuit against the other spouse requesting dissolution of their marriage. The state has outlined specific forms that are necessary to complete the divorce. Only once those documents have been properly filed and served will the court consider finalizing your official separation. The closest parties can come to an uncontested divorce is by agreeing on all the terms of the divorce from the start (and not changing their minds).
It all starts with the Petition for Dissolution. The very first document needed to get the case started is the Petition, which outlines one party’s request for divorce. In most scenarios where the parties do not get along, the Petition is barebones. It describes generally the request for separation, parenting plan, child support, and other asset and debt disbursements. Where parties do get along, the Petition can be more specific – perhaps even outlining every facet of the divorce. If the parties agree on all the terms of the divorce, the responding party can sign the Petition in joinder. By having both parties sign the Petition, the court is made aware that they agree with each other on what was stated. While this doesn’t mean the case will remain uncontested in some cases, it is a good indicator of what is to come.
In a standard contested divorce, after the Petition is filed, the initial pleadings must be served on the responding party who then has time to prepare an opposing response. If the joinder was signed, no service or response is typically required. The parties will then negotiate the final divorce documents. In a contested matter, this can be a long-drawn-out scenario of fighting in the courts about temporary orders or appearing for mediation. If the parties still cannot reach an agreement after many months of negotiating, the case will head to trial where the judge will make the final decisions. This type of contested litigation can be expensive and risky, which is why – even in contested cases – parties often negotiate a less-than-perfect resolution at mediation.
But, what if the parties agree on all the terms from the beginning? If that’s the case, none of the fighting and cost is necessary. Instead of focusing on court battles and alternative dispute resolution, the parties can immediately draw up the final divorce order, parenting plan, and child support documents before just sitting back and waiting the rest of the 90-day waiting period. Unfortunately, contested or not, spouses in Washington must wait at least 90-days after filing and serving the divorce before they can finalize the dissolution. If they agree from the outset, however, the waiting period is superficial as the parties will have all the documents ready to file on the 91st day.
With the final documents pre-prepared and the waiting period complete, the parties or their attorney merely file the final divorce documents. While technically their divorce may have been contested, their agreement on the terms of resolution made the process simple, easy, and quick. Often more important, for these “uncontested” divorces, the costs are substantially reduced without the fighting and court battles. If you and your spouse are in relative agreement, working with an experienced family law attorney can help ensure a quick and timely process. The family law attorneys at the law offices of Magnuson Lowell, P.S. are available to efficiently handle your uncontested divorces. Call today for a free case evaluation.