Legal Separation in Washington State
Washington State law does allow married couples to enter into a binding legal separation instead of an actual Dissolution of Marriage (divorce). Legal separation in Washington State allows you and your spouse to obtain a court approved Decree of Legal Separation. However, legal separation is not required before filing or obtaining a divorce in Washington.
Legal Separation vs Divorce
There are many reasons that spouses elect to get a Decree of Legal Separation instead of a divorce (or Decree of Dissolution of Marriage). In some circumstances, it may be due to religious reasons or one or both spouses opposition to divorce. In such circumstances, the couple may prefer to be legally separated. In other cases, the couple may not be certain that they want to end their marriage.
The most common reason a splitting couples choose legal separation is to make formal financial or child arrangements just as they would in an actual divorce. Legal separation allows a couple to legally split their property and debt. In addition, if a couple has children, legal separation, like a divorce, allows the couple to obtain court orders for child custody, support and visitation.
What is the process for a Legal Separation?
The process for Legal Separation is very similar to an uncontested divorce. The primary difference is that the legal documents vary and the initial request to the court is different. The final Decree from the court is a Decree of Legal Separation instead of a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
Can we use Washington Divorce Online?
Provided your situation meets the requirements, spouses seeking a legal separation in Washington may use Washington Divorce Online to obtain a legal separation. You can use the link at the bottom of the page to determine if you qualify for the online service.
What do we do if we decide later that we want a divorce in Washington State?
A Decree of Legal Separation can be converted to a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (divorce). If the court has already granted the Decree and one of the spouses wishes to convert the Legal Separation to a divorce, a motion can be made with the court to convert the legal separation to a divorce. However, this motion to convert can only be filled after six months has passed. Either spouse may make the motion to the court. Both spouses do not have to agree in order to convert a legal separation to divorce. However, the spouse filing the motion must provide legal notice to the other spouse. (After one year, legal notice isn't technically required, but many judges in several counties will still require the legal notice be provided to the other spouse.)
What do we do if we decide later that we want to reconcile and no longer be legally separated?
Provided both spouses agree, a legal separation can be undone. If the legal separation has already been approved by the court, and both spouses wish to reconcile and revive the marriage without having to formally remarry, then a Motion to Vacate Decree of Legal Separation can be filled. Once the court approves same, it is as if the legal separation never occurred.
If the legal separation case is only pending with the court, and the court had not yet approved the legal separation, the spouses can request that the case be dismissed. Since the court never granted the legal separation in Washington State, it would be as if the legal filing never occurred.