Legal Separation in Washington

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Washington is one of the 41 states which recognize the documentation for legal separation. The process for legal separation in Washington is same as the divorce process. There is only one difference, i.e. the marital status of the husband and the wife remains the same after being legally separated. They remain married and enjoy certain benefits such as insurance and health care services and cannot marry unless they obtain a divorce.

The petition for legal separation is filed in the superior court and the other proceedings are carried out in a manner similar to the divorce proceedings. After the petition is filed, the court sends the summons to the other spouse (respondent). Both the parties either make a mutual arrangement regarding marital issues or they keep litigating on issues such as property division, child custody, family support etc.; in which case it becomes necessary to resolve these issues in front of the curt so as to avoid the conflicts between the partners.

Once these things are taken to the court, the court takes decision as it thinks is fair and it remains legally binding. A legal separation decree is prepared and it is to be signed by the both the partners and the couple has to follow things as per mentioned in the decree.

The appearance of the petitioner or the respondent in the court is not necessary if they have reached an amicable settlement agreement.

Process for Legal Separation in Washington:

The process of legal separation in Washington is same as the divorce process with the only difference of the couple's marital status after the case is rested.

The process for legal separation is as follows:

  • One spouse files a petition for legal separation (petitioner).
  • The form for legal separation (which is similar to the divorce form) is filled by the petitioner.
  • The court serves the other spouse (respondent) and ask him/her to attend the hearing.
  • The couple either reaches a mutual agreement regarding financial, estate as well as custodial and support issues or the court directs the couple to follow the decree as thought appropriate by the court.
  • In the next 90 days, the final papers are drawn.
  • The husband and the wife sign the final papers.
  • The couple is announced as legally separated.
Legal separation in Washington is an altogether different process howsoever similar to the divorce process. The residency requirement for filing the legal separation in Washington is that you must be the resident of the Washington state on the day you file for divorce petition. Even if you are posted in Washington as one of the member of the armed forces, you can file a legal separation in Washington.

If another spouse files for divorce after being served by the legal separation notice, the court proceeds with the divorce plea instead of the suit for legal separation. If one of the spouses want to change the legal separation suit to divorce, they have to file a different petition seeking divorce. However, this can be done only after six months of filing the legal separation lawsuit.

Motion and Order to Convert:

If after six months filing for legal separation, a spouse feels that he / she wants to go for divorce and sever all the ties with the other spouse a separate divorce petition has to be filed. This petition to convert the ongoing legal separation procedure to divorce process is called Motion and Order to Convert. Thus, in the Washington state, a legal separation case can be converted to a divorce case after initial six months.

Motion and Order to Dismiss the Decree of Legal Separation:

If the couple decides to reconcile after the separation agreement is passed and the legal separation is granted, they can file for a petition to discard the decree of the same. The petition is to be granted to the same court which has granted the legal separation in the first place.

Thus, in a legal separation in Washington, reconciliation remains an option and separation does not have to compulsorily lead to divorce. The main issues that are addressed in a separation agreement or decree by the court are child custody, child support and alimony, visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent, division of assets and debts, tax benefits, insurance coverage and investment and retirement plans.

The legal separation in Washington lasts until one of you converts it into divorce or the petitioner withdraws the lawsuit or if one of the spouses die. As Washington is a no-fault divorce state, the legal separation is immediately granted on the basis of 'irreconcilable differences' or if the marriage is 'irretrievably broken'.

The minimum time required for a legal separation process is 90 days regardless of children being involved. Some of the counties in Washington advise people to go for mediation and counseling, whereas some counties proceed directly to divorce from legal separation.

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