Can I Fill Out My Own Divorce Papers?

“Can I fill out my own divorce papers?”

On another blog, Mark Alexander of our office responded to this common question:


You are certainly allowed to, and virtually all the Washington State forms are available online. However, they are bare-bones forms, which were designed to ensure that all the necessary main issues are raised, but without language which is often desirable, and may be critical.

For example, the state’s form Parenting Plan lists the following options as Major Decisions:

Major decisions regarding each child shall be made as follows:

Education decisions [ ] mother [ ] father [ ] joint
Non-emergency health care [ ] mother [ ] father [ ] joint
Religious upbringing [ ] mother [ ] father [ ] joint
____________________ [ ] mother [ ] father [ ] joint
(several more blank lines are included)

Most people would just check the “joint” box for the three categories and go on to the next section. But there are a number of other major decisions which often may warrant joint decisions. Examples are: marriage before age 18, entry into the military, obtaining a drivers license, choice of care provider, choice of counselors, summer camps, orthodontia, tattoos and body piercings, etc.

If the parties have no children together, such choices aren’t needed. But there are similar areas in a property division or regarding spousal maintenance (alimony) which would benefit from carefully chosen language, gleaned from a family law attorney’s years of experience. Beware the newly-admitted attorney with a low price unless there are no children, no assets, no maintenance, and no debts.

Apart from drafting help, the county specific procedures may be confusing. An example would be a motion on the family law motions calendar in King County. Although you might have timely delivered the right pleadings to all the right parties (did you remember the working papers?), the hearing will be stricken if you don’t call the correct number during specific hours before the hearing to confirm that it will go forward as scheduled.