In 1973 Washington stopped using the terms “divorce,” replacing it with “dissolution of marriage.” Washington is a no fault dissolution state which means that dissolution of marriage does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either spouse. In fact, the wrong doing of one spouse is generally viewed by the Court as irrelevant. A dissolution of marriage determines the marital status of the parties, divides community and separate property and debts between the parties, determines a parenting plan for any minor children, determines child support for any dependent children, determines spousal maintenance, decides who is allowed to claim any child tax credit, provides for any continuing restraining orders and issues any domestic violence or anti-harassment protection orders. There is a mandatory 90 day waiting period between the time a petition for dissolution is filed and served on the opposing spouse and the date the Court will enter a final order dissolving the marriage. If the spouses are not able to reach an agreement the petition for dissolution progress to a civil trial heard by a judge with no jury.
A petition for a decree of legal separation follows the same course and provides the same relief as a dissolution action. The difference is the parties remain legally married. This is often important for maintaining health care benefits. If either party requests a dissolution rather than a legal separation before a final order is entered the matter will be converted to a dissolution. After a legal separation has been final for six months, either party may convert it to a dissolution without the other’s consent.