There is no minimum length of time of residency required to file for divorce in Washington state. Any person who is currently a resident of Washington, who is in the armed forces and is stationed in Washington, or who is married to a resident of the state may file for divorce in a Washington state court.

As long as you intend to remain in the state for the foreseeable future, you need only reside in Washington on the date that you file your divorce petition. However, if you and your spouse are now residing in separate states, either state could potentially have jurisdiction over your divorce.

How Washington Divorce Affects Spouses Who Live in Different States

If you and your spouse currently live in separate states, you should carefully consider where to file the papers. Washington state divorces follow community property laws, but most US states observe equitable distribution law. If your spouse earns significantly more than you or has more assets in their name only, Houses on a Street in Washington Stateit may be more favorable for them to file in an equitable distribution state—and more favorable for you to file in Washington.

If two different states are eligible to have jurisdiction over a marriage, the state that will preside over the case will be the one where the divorce petition is first filed. If your spouse files first, you could be required to travel there for divorce proceedings.

A multi-state divorce may also be complicated by:

  • Enforceability of marital agreements. All states have different requirements when it comes to whether prenuptial and postnuptial agreements can be considered legally binding. For example, Washington courts may not uphold a marital agreement that wasn’t entered into willingly or was signed before or without advice from independent counsel. They are not likely to recognize an agreement that does not provide a fair and reasonable provision for the spouse who isn’t enforcing the agreement or does not include full disclosure of the amount and value of each party’s assets.
  • Fault. Some states still allow “fault” divorces, giving spouses a chance to allege that their partner’s wrongdoing or misconduct led to the breakdown of the marriage. These divorces may lead to lower alimony payments or a smaller share of marital property for the at-fault spouse.
  • Child custody. In order to make a decision on child-related matters, the court must have jurisdiction over your children. In general, Washington will have jurisdiction over children if they have lived primarily in the state for the last six months. Washington may also have jurisdiction over children if they recently moved to another state, but one parent continues to live here, and Washington was the children’s home state before the move. If Washington has jurisdiction over you but not your children, the court may enter a divorce decree without establishing child support or assigning custody. You may then have to go to your child(ren)’s home state for a determination on custody, support, and visitation.
  • Jurisdiction over the spouse. Even if the state has jurisdiction over you and your children, it may not have personal jurisdiction over your spouse. A Washington court cannot order alimony, allocate debts, or assign property to anyone it doesn’t have jurisdiction over. However, it may be possible to establish jurisdiction over an out-of-state spouse by establishing the spouse’s connections and contacts within the state of Washington or by seeking the out-of-state spouse’s consent to a Washington divorce.

Divorce is a stressful and complicated process, but we can ease your burden by taking the legal matters off your plate. We work hard to put you in a position that allows you to move on to the next phase of your life as seamlessly as possible. Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today to arrange a private consultation, or use our online contact form to have us get back to you.


Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington