Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) in Washington State
Family law has many dimensions and is influenced by legal as well as social and economic factors.
Laws affecting relationships may change as traditions and attitudes evolve. Because these laws are
complex and subject to change, this pamphlet is intended to provide general information only; it is
not a substitute for legal advice.
Ending a marriage may be a particularly upsetting event, involving many uncertainties and
emotions. If divorce or separation is unavoidable or in your best interest, a lawyer can guide you in
protecting your rights. This pamphlet discusses areas of concern and attempts to answer frequently
Ending a Marriage
Various procedures may be used to end a marriage that breaks down, including annulment,
separation and dissolution.
Annulment is a court-ordered dissolution of an invalid marriage. Technically called a "Decree of
Invalidity," it nullifies a marriage from its inception and is granted in situations where no valid
marriage exists because of some legal defect.
A separation may be formalized with a legal contract, or a "Decree of Legal Separation," or both. A
legal separation may be preferred to a dissolution for religious, economic or other reasons. A couple
may decide to live apart while attempting to save a faltering relationship, or the separation may be
an interim step toward termination of the marriage. There is no legal requirement for actual
separation before dissolving a marriage.
Oral or written understandings concerning property disposition, arrangements for children,
maintenance, or other agreements made while separated may become part of a dissolution
If a marriage falls apart and is considered "irretrievably broken," one or both partners may seek a
dissolution of the relationship. This court proceeding legally terminates a marriage, and makes
provisions for the parenting of minor children, family support, and division of property and liabilities.
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