Can I File My Divorce in Washington?

I have had a number of questions lately about filing Washington divorces. The questions have generally been from people not currently residing in Washington, or newly arrived in Washington. Several have even been from people in same sex marriages who have moved to states that do recognize their marriage (which can create a real problem).

Often I get these questions because people have heard that the residency standards in Washington are easier than in some other states. That is true – Washington only requires that one of the parties reside in Washington, but does not specify a length of time they need to have resided here. Many states require that the person have resided within the state for a period of time – maybe 6 months, a year, or possibly even longer, depending on the state.

That still leaves the question, however, of what does “residency” mean. People want to know if it is enough to own property in Washington, or have a Washington driver’s license or be registered to vote here (people who may have lived here in the past but are now living somewhere else). In fact, it does not appear that those kinds of factors matter. The basic standard is LIVING in Washington with the intent to remain here.

In other words, a person should qualify as a resident if they have been here for a week but intend to continue living here, even if they have not yet registered to vote or obtained a driver’s license. On the other hand, a person who lived in Washington in the past and still owns a house here, votes here, and has a Washington driver’s license, BUT is currently living in another state would not qualify as a resident. Of course then we get to the tricky question of living versus visiting in the other state. That seems to come down to a question of their intent – are they intending to remain in the new state, or is the visit there temporary?

Then there is the issue of jurisdiction over the other party. If the person who files resides in Washington, but the other spouse does not and never has lived in Washington, and does not consent to doing the divorce in Washington, then we may lack jurisdiction over that spouse. While we might be able to get a divorce, we may not be able to enter any orders that affect the other spouse – not be able to divide property, order support, or order parenting arrangements. If that is the case, then you really are better off filing the divorce in a state that does have jurisdiction to handle all of those things.