Should I file for legal separation or divorce in Washington State?

The Legal Process of Separation and Divorce

A common question I am asked during an initial consultation with a new client is whether they should file for legal separation or divorce.  For most people, divorce is the better option.  One thing I always tell clients I cannot advise them on is if they are ready to file for divorce as it is a very personal decision that should not be taken lightly.  I can, however, explain the legal process and ramifications of both divorce and separation.

Legal separation is common for someone who does not believe in divorce for religious reasons.  I have also seen legal separation used to keep an ill spouse on the other spouse’s medical insurance (as you cannot continue to insure someone after a divorce is finalized).  For others, they still want their marital community to exist, but they want to be legally separated from their spouse’s poor financial decisions.  Legal separation may also protect one spouse’s assets from creditors or judgments in a lawsuit.

With a legal separation, you have to jump through the same hoops as divorce – filing a petition and summons, having the opposing party served, and waiting 20 days for them to respond.  Final orders also must be reached in a legal separation that divides up the property, enter a parenting plan, and set child support.  Legal separation often just creates one more step in the future as you have to file a motion to convert the separation into a divorce should you decide you want a divorce in the future.

Reconciliation Period in Washington State

If your marriage is irretrievably broken, divorce is often the best route.  In Washington, we have a 90 day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized.  This is known as a “reconciliation period” as Washington hopes that the parties will be able to work out their differences and not jump to a rash decision in dissolving a marriage.  I have had a few clients reconcile during this period as filing for divorce was enough of a wake-up call for the non-filing spouse.  If that occurs, a motion and order to dismiss can be filed and the marriage remains intact.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between separation and divorce or would like to set up an initial consultation with me to discuss your specific facts, please contact me at 360-866-4000 or

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