How To File For Divorce: The Petition’s second definition of “petition” is:  “A request made for something desired, esp. a respectful or humble request, as to a superior or to one of those in authority; a supplication or prayer.”   Fair enough.   Some folks seek their freedom with the fervency of prayer.


Most lawsuits in Washington start with a complaint.  But in a desire to make divorce less contentious, the Powers That Be morphed the bad ol’  Complaint into the kinder, gentler Petition.  This is odd, because if you had nothing to complain about, you probably wouldn’t be getting dissolved, er, divorced.


The petition is the blueprint of the divorce.  It lays out these practical details:

  1. Name and birthdate of you and your spouse.
  2. Names and ages of children, if any.
  3. Date and place of marriage.
  4. Date of separation.
  5. Why Washington state has jurisdiction over the marriage, the parties, and the children.
  6. Whether the wife is pregnant.

It also asks for more substantial information, such as:

  1. Property
  2. Maintenance (alimony)
  3. Debts
  4. Child support
  5. Restraining order and/or protection order.

If you want, you can detail exactly what you want (such as who should pay which debts), but most people reserve these specifics for later – unless they have already agreed on these details.

The last section of the petition asks for what relief you request, including attorneys fees, income tax exemptions for the children, and changing the names of the wife and/or husband.

The one thing that all petitions have in common is the following statement: This marriage is irretrievably broken. It is one thing, at least, that you and your spouse might agree upon.


Some forms are state-wide and some are county-specific.  The state form can be found here at the Washington Courts website.


Check out the Petition.

How To File For Divorce – The Summons says that a “summons” is “a call or citation to appear before a court or a judicial officer” – basically, it’s a command to appear.



A summons is essentially a cover sheet for any lawsuit, including a dissolution (a.k.a. a divorce).  It says you must respond within 20 days (or 60 days if you live outside of Washington).  If you not respond within the 20 days, your soon-to-be ex can get a default judgment against you – generally not a good idea.  All dissolution summonses are pretty much the same.


King County Superior Court has a link to the Washington Courts website. The tricky part is that some forms are county-specific and some are the same throughout the state. The Summons is a state-wide form, and you get it here.


Check out the Summons.

Pop Quiz – Judges On The Verge

Pop Quiz is an ongoing series about cases from the Washington State Court of Appeals and the Washington Supreme Court.  Each post includes some facts about a specific case, then invites you to guess which of the four choices best describes the court’s ruling.

Scales of JusticeThis is a divorce case involving a property settlement and a Judge who waxed eloquent about the wife’s supposed “marital misconduct.” The biggest surprise, given the Judge’s ideas about which spouse was guilty of misconduct, is that the case is actually from 2005, not 1905.  Judges like this are exactly why we have a Court of Appeals …

During their four-and-a-half year marriage, Mr. Muhammad was employed as a deputy sheriff for Pierce County, and Mrs. Muhammad was employed at a supermarket and at Pierce County Transit.  In April 2001, Mr. and Mrs. Muhammad engaged in an argument during which Mr. Muhammad allegedly pointed a weapon at his wife.

Subsequently, the couple separated, and Mrs. Muhammad obtained an order of protection, which barred Mr. Muhammad from owning or possessing a firearm in any capacity.  As a result, Mr. Muhammad lost his job in law enforcement.  The trial court remarked extensively on the relationship between Mr. Muhammad’s unemployment and Mrs. Muhammad’s decision to obtain a protective order. The remarks included the following excerpts:

“… Mrs. Muhammad has sought to punish Mr. Muhammad….”

“[Mrs. Muhammad] had to know or at least should have known or should have been told that if she proceeded with this protection order, that [Mr. Muhammad] was not going to have a job and he wasn’t going to have an income and he wasn’t going to be able to pay his debts….”

The trial court considered marital fault when distributing the property amongst the parties, disfavoring Mrs. Muhammad because she obtained an order for protection.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s distribution of the parties’ assets and liabilities.

Did the Washington State Supreme Court affirm the trial court’s analysis of Mrs. Muhammad’s decision to obtain a domestic violence protection order against her as marital fault?

(a) Yes, a Washington State court may consider any form of marital fault or misconduct in all dissolution of marriage cases.

(b) Yes, the consideration of fault was justified in dividing the property because Mrs. Muhammad should have known what the consequences of her actions would have been.

(c) No, the trial court abused its discretion; consideration of marital misconduct is explicitly prohibited by Washington State statute.

(d) No, the Washington State Supreme Court found fault against Mrs. Muhammad based on other grounds.

Answer: (c) No, the trial court abused its discretion; consideration of marital misconduct is explicitly prohibited by Washington State statute.

Citation: 153 Wash.2d 795, 108 P.3d 779 (Wash. 2005)

Check out this important statute: RCW 26.09.080. Disposition of property and liabilities–Factors

In a proceeding for dissolution of the marriage, legal separation, declaration of invalidity, or in a proceeding for disposition of property following dissolution of the marriage by a court which lacked personal jurisdiction over the absent spouse or lacked jurisdiction to dispose of the property, the court shall, without regard to marital misconduct, make such disposition of the property and the liabilities of the parties, either community or separate, as shall appear just and equitable after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to:

(1) The nature and extent of the community property;

(2) The nature and extent of the separate property;

(3) The duration of the marriage; and

(4) The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live therein for reasonable periods to a spouse with whom the children reside the majority of the time.

stacks-of-paperGetting a divorce is way more complex than it probably should be.   In fact, depending on your case, you could end up filling out 25 or 30 forms en route to your freedom. Think of it as Washington’s way of supporting the logging industry, one unhappy marriage at a time.

Don’t fret, though.  We’re here to help.   Because divorce can be such an overwhelming experience, we take a bite-sized approach, giving a brief explanation of just one form per article.

To get the ball rolling in order to file for divorce in King County, you just need to fill out 5 forms:

  1. A Summons
  2. A Petition For Dissolution (Divorce)
  3. A Case Assignment Designation and Case Info Cover Sheet (CICS)
  4. A Confidential Information Form (CIF)
  5. A Vital Statistics Form for the Department of Health.

You also need to hand over some cold hard cash ($250) along with the documents to the nice court clerk at either the downtown Seattle courthouse or the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

Here are some links to other sites that have lots of self-help documents. Unfortunately, these how-to guides are long and complex, and you might just think that  it’s easier to stay married.


Still, these sites have lots of great, and sometimes unexpected, information – like a divorce guide in Bulgarian!

For much, much more information, go to:

For those who’d rather not read a 76-page pdf, stay tuned here.  Decoupling’s ongoing resource series will include literally dozens of other forms – one form at a time – that are either always or sometimes necessary for getting unhitched in King County.

Divorce is, obviously, a difficult process.  But with a little help,  you’ll at least be able to get through this morass of forms, to get the process going.  It’s the first step to getting on with the rest of your life….


What Is Legal Separation?

Question: What is the difference between legal separation and dissolution (divorce)?


Answer: Not much.  The main practical difference is that you can’t get remarried.  In all other respects – property settlement, child support, etc. – you are as good as divorced.

People usually pursue legal separation instead of divorce for one of three reasons:

  1. They have religious beliefs that discourage divorce.
  2. One spouse really needs the health insurance of the other spouse (though many insurance companies now terminate benefits upon a final Decree of Legal Separation).
  3. They are – maybe in the back of their minds – considering reconciliation.

Note that once a Petition for Legal Separation has been filed, either spouse may file a motion to convert it into a Divorce, before or after the case is finalized.  The other spouse has no legal right to object to this.

Divorce is Double No Good

Historically, divorce has been a nasty business with equally nasty terminology.  “Custody” and “alimony” conjure up images of bile-spewing, decades-long battles.  Washington, like many states, has altered the terminology of many key divorce concepts in an effort to escape the loaded words of the bad old days, probably in the hope that more harmonious language will mean more harmonious litigation.

Is this Orwellian double-speak?  Enlightened social engineering?  Or just six to one, half a dozen of the other?  You be the judge.

You may be surprised to learn that today we don’t even have “divorce” in Washington.  Instead, we have “dissolution,” suggesting that the process of unhappy spouses going their separate ways is as smooth and painless and sugar melting in a cup of tea.  Gone, too, are the accusations of adultery and mental cruelty, once a prerequisite to even getting divorced, for we are now a “no-fault State.”

Whatever you call it, it's still not funSo far as the law of Washington is concerned, an irretrievably broken marriage is like bad weather:  we can figure out why it happened if we want to, but no one is to blame.

Scornful spouses are no longer Plaintiffs and Defendants (terms we still use in other civil litigation matters).  Instead, the spouse who starts the litigation and pays the court filing fees is the “Petitioner,” while the other is the “Respondent.”  Makes it seem as easy as signing a petition at the mall for more hiking trails or responding to a letter from an old college chum.

And here’s some good news for you high-wage earners: “Alimony” is a four-letter word of the past.  Instead, you will be heartened to learn that now you simply pay “maintenance” – kind of like your homeowner dues.  Feels better already, doesn’t it?

Gone, too, are ruinous “custody fights” of decades past, because custody no longer even exists.  Instead, divorced fathers and mothers “co-parent” their children through a meticulously crafted “Parenting Plan” featuring all sorts of tranquil sections like  “Joint Decision-Making.” So now, instead of losing custody, you simply become the “non-residential parent.”  And who, really, has a problem with that?

But, traditionalists take heart, for some things never change: “Child support,” even in the brave new millennium, is still just “child support.”

[dee-kuhp-uhl] verb, -pled, -pling.

  1. to cause to become separated, disconnected, or divergent; uncouple.
  2. to absorb the shock of (a nuclear explosion): a surrounding mass of earth and rock can decouple a nuclear blast.
  3. to separate or diverge from an existing connection; uncouple.

Origin: 1595–1605; de- + couple

What about Decoupling Blog?

Should you read Decoupling with your kids? Maybe not.Decoupling offers a simple guide to common court forms, survival tips, news, humor, pop quizzes on recent cases, and answers to general family law questions.

Family law is difficult, messy terrain. We love it, however, for one simple reason – it matters.  Family law deals with the toughest stuff of life – protecting your house, your pension, your entire future, and most importantly, your children.

Decoupling, whether from a marriage or a domestic partnership, is nearly always a traumatic event that no one plans for any more than they do a car accident.  Surviving the process is, for most people, decoupling’s foremost challenge.  And for us lawyer folk, helping to clear the path so that you can thrive again is the craft of decoupling.

I decided to create the Decoupling Blog for two main reasons:

First, I want to simplify the forms and rules regarding family law actions in King County.  Sometimes the forms and rules are so complex that even us lawyers routinely screw them up.  One Court Commissioner recently told me that he was astounded that pro se‘s (folks without lawyers) ever successfully navigate their own divorces at all.  I recently became Chair of the Local Rules sub-committee of the Family Law Section of the King County Bar Association (try to say that three times fast!), so that I  could help make our county court rules more logical, more intuitive, and more simple.  Eventually, this should help both lawyers and non-lawyers navigate this area of law.  It’s a big job, however, and in the end, the judges make the rules, not me.  In the mean time, I want to help people understand not only what forms they need but also what these forms do.

Unfortunately, many lawyers actually like complex rules.  Sometimes, I am afraid that this is true because lawyers believe that complex rules give them job security.  However, people ought to hire family law attorneys for our insight, experience, pragmatism, and willingness to fight for a fair result – not because of byzantine court procedures.

Second, while family law is very serious business, I want to encourage clients and attorneys to stay positive and light-hearted.  Cases seem to flow much smoothly when neither the clients nor their attorneys take themselves seriously.  Plus, clients who keep their sense of humor throughout the decoupling process usually land on their feet, ready to move on to the next chapter of their life.  Much of the divorce-related humor I see, however, tends to be cynical, mean-spirited, and worst of all, not funny.   It’s my goal to inject some levity into this difficult subject, while still being respectful to all involved.

This blog is a service of Rao & Pierce PLLC.  I thank my partners Tom Bao Pierce and Katy Banahan for their support, for showing me every day how to be a better lawyer, and for never taking themselves too seriously.

Decoupling seeks, above all, to be useful and insightful.  Let us know how we’re doing, and please let us know if you find any expired links or information that you think is incorrect.

Christopher Rao
Managing Partner, Rao & Pierce PLLC

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