You will have an initial interview to decide whether a Summons and Petition for Dissolution should be filed, or whether it would be to your advantage to wait until a later date to file an action, or whether to consider pursuing alternative legal actions pertaining to your spouse. If a Petition for Dissolution is to be filed, you will be given a questionnaire regarding your spouse, your children, your personal and financial status, and your property. It is important that you answer the questions as completely as possible because without the requested information your attorney cannot properly represent you. If, after providing the questionnaire answers, you remember or acquire new information, please advise us at once.
Once we have the necessary information, a Petition and Summons will be prepared. To assist us in rapidly preparing your documents you will be requested to complete a questionnaire online that will be sent to a secure website where only our office can retrieve the information. The website will alert our office via an email notification when your information has been received at the secure website.
A Summons notifies your spouse that you have commenced a legal action and provides a time frame in which your spouse must respond. If your spouse fails to respond within the time frame set by the Summons (normally 20 days from receipt, 60 days if served outside of Washington State), you may be entitled to an Order of Default granting to you the relief requested in your Petition. If this occurs, your attorney will discuss the default rules with you.
A Petition for Dissolution recites the date of marriage, your residence, and whether any obligations were accumulated during marriage. It further lists children’s names, birth dates, the party seeking to have residential placement of the children, and whether child support is sought. It may set forth your financial status, whether you seek maintenance (formerly known as “alimony”) and whether the wife wishes her maiden name to be restored. (Please note that either spouse may change his or her name to any other name as a part of the Decree.) In short, it will allege what relief you desire from the court.
Usually, we prepare Petitions for Dissolution to be general in content. We do not set out the proposed divisions of property and debts. This way, you are not bound by proposed property divisions or economic decisions until we have ascertained the accuracy of all of the information related to your case and fully discussed your options with you. Many times there may be the need for verification of the full extent of the marital community’s assets and holdings and debts and liabilities.
After the Petition for Dissolution is filed with the court clerk, a copy will be given to a process server to serve upon your spouse. The official commencement of the dissolution proceeding will be deemed to start with either the filing or service of the Summons and the Petition, whichever is later. Your spouse or his/her counsel may accept service, which will eliminate a cost to you and potential embarrassment to you spouse.
Service by Publication
If you do not know the whereabouts of your spouse, your Summons and Petition may be published in a local newspaper. On your behalf, we may send through the mail a copy of the Summons and Petition to your spouse’s last-known residence or employer. The publication must run for a certain number of days and your spouse will have a longer period in which to respond.
If you have been served with a Summons and Petition for Dissolution, your attorney must prepare a Notice of Appearance and a written Response to the Petition on your behalf, serve it on your spouse’s counsel and file it with the clerk of the court. This must be accomplished within twenty days after you were served with (or received) the Summons and Petition to avoid being in “default”. If you filed the Petition, your spouse will have to file a Response after being served. A Response will admit or deny the allegations in the Petition for Dissolution and set forth the relief sought by the spouse responding. It is possible to lose your chance to challenge the Petition by waiting beyond the twenty days to answer.
To file for a Petition of Dissolution, you must be a resident of the State of Washington; however, there are some exceptions for military members and some persons whose spouses reside in Washington. There is no specific time requirement for your residency. Even if you are in the state only one day, this may be sufficient if you intend to stay permanently. The court may examine factors such as owning land in Washington, having registered a car here, having voted in this state in the past and having an apartment or other living accommodations. A hotel-motel living facility is not likely to suffice without more information to prove residency. Concerns about your residency or that of your spouse should be discussed fully with the attorney.
Filing with the Clerk of the Court
After we draft the Summons and Petition for Dissolution or the Response, it will be taken to the courthouse and filed with the court clerk. (A Notice may be in the newspaper on the day after the Summons and Petition are filed; however, most papers no longer report this information. We have no control over the newspaper, and it is almost impossible to prevent a newspaper from picking up the filing of the action.) Also, your information will be available online. Because of that, there is some information that you will be asked to complete as a part of a “Confidential Information” questionnaire. While that form must be filed with the Clerk of Court’s office, it is segregated from the physical file and is not available to the public or from the online file. Similarly, any financial information will be filed as “Sealed Source” document that is not available to the public. Other records, such as those including health records, may be filed as Sealed Source documents. Filing with the court clerk will include issuance of the Automatic Restraining Order.
Automatic Restraining Order
Snohomish County has a standing order for all dissolutions filed on or after May 1, 2010 which causes the court to issue a restraining order as to both parties. As with all court orders, it should be read carefully and you should address questions to your attorney. The order is designed to preserve the “status quo” and possibly to avoid the need to go to court for restraining orders. The order maintains both parties’ access to financial information and contact with the children. Limitations on changes to various insurance coverage, credit card access and similar financial provisions are included.
Spouse’s Residence Outside of Washington
In the event that your spouse resides outside the borders of Washington, service can be made through the sheriff of the county in which he or she lives, or by a legal messenger service. An out-of-state spouse is provided sixty days in which to respond to the Petition, instead of the usual twenty. Because of uncertainties in our law, it may not be possible to procure a judgment against your spouse for child support, alimony, or a complete distribution of property. This situation should be further discussed with your attorney.