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How To Commence A Divorce Action in King County

First, a divorce action is the legal process set up to determine how the parties divide their debts and assets, when the children (if any) will live with each parent, which parent pays child support to the other parent and how much they pay, whether one spouse pays the other spouse spousal maintenance (a/k/a alimony), whether one party contributes to the attorney fees of the other party and whether there should be a restraining or protection order against one of the spouses. Each of these areas can be complicated and can be discussed in great detail. However, this article is limited in scope to discuss the first steps in a divorce action, specifically, what documents are needed to simply commence the divorce process.

Next, you must understand that simply filing for divorce does nothing more than get you access to the courthouse so you can get a Court Commissioner or Judge to take action in your case when you want action taken. When you file for divorce you will automatically get a case schedule which sets forth a time line when certain action shall be taken. The case schedule will tell you when your trial date is, which is typically about 11 months after the date you file the divorce action. This doesn't mean your case will take 11 months, it means that if you have not settled your case with your spouse prior to the trial date you will have a trial before a judge who will then decide how you divide your assets and debts, when the children will be with each parent, who pays child support and how much, whether one spouse pays spousal maintenance to the other spouse, how much and how long, and resolves all the other issues which need to be resolved in the divorce.

I encourage all my clients to do what they can to settle the case because if your case doesn't get settled, then a judge, who will know far less about your facts and circumstances, will decide for you. You have some control over how your case gets settled but you have no control over how the judge will decide how to resolve the issues in your divorce.

The action of commencing (a term which has legal significance) a divorce action is a two step process and both steps need to be taken to properly commence a divorce. The two steps are filing documents with the court and serving documents on your spouse. Note that not all the documents you file with the court are served on your spouse. This article discusses how and what to file and how and what to serve on your spouse in order to commence a divorce action in King County, Washington.

Filing a Divorce Action in King County

The documents you need to file in King County depend upon whether or not you have children and include the following:

Confidential information form (CIF)
Proposed Parenting Plan (if you have minor children)
A Case Designation form
Vital Statistics form.

The case designation form advises the court which courthouse your case will proceed in, either the courthouse in downtown Seattle or the courthouse in Kent, known as the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center. Which courthouse you choose depends on where you live. You can check the court's website for the specifics of which courthouse is appropriate for you but generally if I you live in Seattle and north and east, you need to choose the Seattle courthouse and if you live south of Seattle or south of I-90 you choose the Kent Courthouse.

The vital statistics form is used by the court and the Department of Health to track basic information about your case for statistical purposes. It plays no part in the actual divorce process.

You can file all these forms electronically but you must pay the filing fee whether you file electronically or not.

How to Serve Divorce Documents on Your Spouse

Except for the CIF, you serve the summons, petition, proposed parenting plan and case schedule (if you are serving your spouse first you won't have a case schedule to serve but once you get the case schedule you must send it to your spouse) upon your spouse. You can not serve the documents on your spouse yourself, you must have someone else do this. You can hire a private party or pay the Sheriff's Office to do the service or get someone over 18 to serve the documents. No matter who performs the act of serviced this person must sign a documents which sets forth basic information about who was served, what they were served, when it was served and where it was served.

While having your spouse served with the initial documents seems easy, there can be challenges to service, for example, you don't know where your spouse is, or the person who is attempting to serve them can't find them at home. How to handle these issues is beyond the scope of this article. You can make and appointment with me to discuss these special problems.

Alternatively, you can ask your spouse to sign a separate document, called Acceptance of Service. This document simply says that your spouse acknowledges receipt of the documents you must serve upon her or him. You can then give your spouse the summons, petition and proposed parenting plan (if you have minor children) and case schedule (if you filed first) and then your spouse can sign the Acceptance of Service which you then file with the court. This demonstrates your spouse has been served the initial documents.

So now that you have filed your documents and served them on your spouse, you have commenced a divorce action. So what happens next? Will a judge or commissioner tell me who is the primary parent, who pays support, who gets to stay in the home? No. All you have done so far is commence a divorce action. Nothing more happens until you take some additional steps to have a judge or commissioner determine, on a temporary basis, when the children will be with each parent, who pays support and how much, who uses your property, who stays in your home and other matters.

Frankly, the easy part is getting the divorce action commenced. Now you have to take the time to request a judge or commissioner to make decisions about parenting, support, spousal maintenance, possession and use of the property, who pays the debts, and other matters. This is much harder and requires you complete other documents which provide more detail about your case and what you want in terms of parenting, child and/or spousal support, use of property and other things. I will discuss these matters in my next article.

Remember, you can set up an appointment with me to discuss all aspects of your case. Most clients have unique issues related to their case and it can be very costly in trying to represent yourself to handle these matters. Even if you want to represent yourself in your divorce action it can be very important to get legal advice as to how to handle certain issues and feel confident that you will be able to represent yourself in your divorce action. I have been representing folks just like you in divorce actions since 1983. I have acted as a mediator in many cases as well and bring a great deal of experience to every case I handle. Please feel free to call and set up an appointment to discuss your case. I look forward to meeting you.