Family Law: Legal Separation in Washington

A married party may initiate an action for legal separation in lieu of divorce in Washington. A legal separation allows the parties to remain married but ends the economic community, allowing each to retain his or her earnings and be solely responsible for his or her debts incurred after separation. Major issues to be decided either by agreement or by the Court include division of property and debts, residential and support arrangements for any minor children, and spousal maintenance.

A legal separation action allows the parties to have the protection of the courts, without the necessity of dissolving the marriage that a divorce action would do. Procedurally, you go through much the same steps as you do in a divorce, except the 90 day waiting period does not apply. Substantively, the court does virtually all the things it does in a divorce, except at the end of the process, you are still legally married.

If you have been served with a Petition for Legal Separation, your written response is generally due within 20 days (60 days if you were served out of state). If you fail to respond, a default order may be entered against you. After six months following the entry of a Decree of Legal Separation, either party may request to the Court that the Decree of Legal Separation be converted to a Decree of Dissolution.