When a divorce is started in Washington, the other spouse has to be notified of the divorce action.
This is done by serving him or her with a copy of the Summons and Petition, or ‘divorce papers’. ‘Service’ means delivering a copy to them, and there are rules around how this must be done. Once your spouse has been served, they have a set period of time to file a Response to the Petition. If they fail to do so, you may be able to finalize the case through obtaining an Order of Default.
The divorce papers papers need to be personally delivered, not just mailed, and must be delivered by someone who is not a party to the action (i.e. you cannot do the service yourself). Then a declaration has to be filed with the court stating the date and location of the service. Generally we hire a professional process server for this.
On the other hand, if your spouse is cooperative, they can sign an Acceptance of Service, which is essentially a receipt for the papers. If they sign the Acceptance, then you do not need to have them served as the Acceptance provides the proof that they have received the papers.
Another option is for both parties to file the divorce together, either by both signing as co-petitioners, or by the other party signing a Joinder, which means they join in filing the petition. If either of these are done, then no Service is required AND no Response is needed either.
If there are special problems, such as you no longer know where your spouse is living, or they are ducking service, it may be possible to have the court authorize alternate service.
You will need to describe the efforts you have made to locate and serve the spouse. Alternate service can take two forms: one is publication of a legal notice in a newspaper. This takes time and money.
The quicker and easier way is mailing the divorce papers to ‘last known address’. Generally, even if you don’t know where the person is living now, you have an address where they have lived in the past. Not only is this simpler than going the publication route, but I tend to think it is at least a bit more likely that they will actually get it.