The Stages of the Divorce Process and Related Terms
You need to become familiar with the Stages of the Divorce Process, and the various legal terms that you will likely be hearing as you progress through the Divorce Process in Washington.
The spouse who first files the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the court, and starts the divorce process.
The spouse that files the Response to the Petition.
The Petitioner and Respondent.
The document that starts the divorce process. It is a legal form required by the court and created by the spouse (or their attorney) who starts the divorce. It is a statement of what that person wants and believes is fair. The Petition is filed with the Court and served with the Summons on the other spouse.
“Service” of Process
The legal process of providing notification of the legal proceeding on the other party.
A simple legal document that is served with the Petition and tells the served spouse that they must formally respond within 20 days.
The served spouses’ answer to the Petition. It states what the Respondent wants and believes is fair.
This is the only grounds or basis for the Dissolution of a Marriage in Washington. It is a simple statement meaning that the marriage is broken and no longer working.
“Dissolution of Marriage” Proceeding
This is the process and stages of going through a divorce and dissolving a marriage in Washington.
90-Day Mandatory Cooling-Off Period
In Washington State, a divorce cannot be finalized until 90-days after the filing and service of the Petition. This “cooling-off” period gives both spouses time to think about what they are doing. Even if both spouses agree to all the terms of the divorce, they must still wait for at least 90 days to legally finalize their divorce. Most cases take longer.
Decree of Dissolution of Marriage
This is the Court document that states all of the permanent terms and conditions of the divorce and finalizes the dissolution of the marriage.
Income, property, and other assets and debts, acquired by either spouse during the marriage that is, therefore, jointly owned by both spouses.
Assets and debts possessed by one spouse before the marriage or acquired separately during the marriage, usually as an inheritance or personal injury settlement. To remain “separate” the assets cannot be intermingled with “community” assets.
Motion for Temporary Orders
A request to the Court to establish temporary rules for the relationship during the divorce process. The Orders will temporarily award child custody, visitation and support; spousal support; use of the home and other assets; and duties to pay bills. It may also include limitations on access to bank accounts and other financial resources. The Temporary Order will remain in effect until amended, or replaced by the final Decree.
Going to Court and appearing before the Judge to argue an issue.
Settlement Conference or Mediation
A formal meeting at which the spouses try to reach an agreement on the terms and conditions of their divorce with the assistance of a judge or other neutral party.
The final Court appearance before a judge, where testimony is given for the Court to determine the factual basis for the terms and conditions of the Divorce Decree.
A neutral attorney that attends and facilitates the mediation or settlement conference and tries to help the parties reach an agreement.
Spousal Support or Spousal Maintenance (formerly known as Alimony)
Spousal Support is the legal obligation for the financially stronger spouse to make monthly payments to the financially weaker spouse during and/or after the divorce. It may be temporary or permanent.
Parenting Plan / Residential Care (formerly known as custody and visitation)
The Parenting Plan that is included in the Temporary Orders and the final Decree spells out exactly when the children will reside with one parent or the other. This called Residential Care. The Court no longer uses the terms of child custody and visitation. Other issues of how the children will be handled, such as visitation, transportation, child care, etc., are also included in the Plan.
Guardian ad Litem
A neutral person, usually an attorney, who is ordered by the Court to investigate and report to the Court on what is in the best interest of the child(ren) for Residential Care.
Written questions asked about yourself and your assets by the opposing attorney that must be answered formally under oath. Interrogatories are part of a process known as Pre-Trial Discovery.
Out-of-court questioning and oral testimony. You are ordered to appear at your attorney’s office and answer questions posed by the opposing attorney, under oath, about yourself and your assets. Depositions and Interrogatories are part of a “discovery” process where the people involved in litigation gather information to prepare for a trial.
Next, read about Frequently Asked Divorce Questions.