How to Find a Divorce Record in Washington
Divorce occurs when two married people decide to reverse their decision to be married. Divorce is also known as marriage dissolution. Serving and filing divorce papers is often the first step in the divorce process. In the State of Washington, divorce cases are typically a matter of Family Court or Civil Court, which is a division of the Washington Superior Court system, which is also known as general jurisdiction courts. In other words, Washington’s Family Court or Civil Courts serve as the state’s divorce courts. Records of Washington divorce cases (also referred to as dissolution of marriage records) filed after 1968 are held and maintained by the Washington Department of Health (WDH). Divorce cases finalized prior to 1968 are kept by the county clerk of the Washington county in which the divorce was concluded. Members of the public who wish to access these records should be aware that this action is recorded in three ways, and their purpose varies. This knowledge will help accelerate the process of obtaining the correct form of divorce record.
Divorce records are considered court records. They may therefore be searched on third party public record websites. Divorce records can offer personal information on minors, finances, and sensitive criminal information like domestic abuse. Because of this, the availability of divorce records, divorce certificates, and divorce decrees is usually much lower than other types of public records because of the personal nature of divorces. Simply put, divorce records are significantly harder to obtain and search for than other types of public records.
Are Washington Divorce Records Public Records?
Washington divorce records should always be available to the public unless sealed by a judge or court order. Any person can order certified copies of divorce certificates, and when requesting through the WDH, it is not necessary to provide valid identification. These records can be viewed and obtained online through state portals, by mail, or in-person. According to Washington State Court General Rule GR 31, it is policy that courts assist in the access of court records, which includes divorce documents. This rule also states that there are exceptions and some records may not be available due to personal privacy rights.
What are Washington Divorce Certificates?
A divorce certificate is the simple statement that a divorce occurred, containing the names of the two parties who have been divorced as well as when and where the divorce was concluded. A divorce certificate only contains basic information concerning a divorce; the divorce agreement and other more significant information are retained for other types of divorce records. Often, this form of divorce record (divorce certificate) is requested when one of the parties wishes to change their name. It is also required when one of the parties wants to acquire a new marriage certificate. Washington considers these records public and, unless sealed by the court judge, they are accessible by the public to search for and view. Similar to other types of divorce records, a divorce certificate is only issued when a divorce court approves the petition for dissolution of marriage and other divorce papers.
What are Washington Divorce Decrees?
Divorce decrees in Washington contain more detailed information than divorce certificates. Along with the names of parties, the date, and location, a divorce decree also holds information regarding the final judgments in the case and includes a case number and signature from the judge. The judgments stated in this document can encompass any information regarding custody and child support, apportionment of property, and alimony payments. The specifics of the divorce petition and other divorce papers filed in the divorce case by the married parties often constitute the basis of the court's final judgment. The only way to obtain a divorce decree is from the county superior court clerk where the divorce case was filed.
What are Washington Divorce Records?
Divorce records are a more detailed divorce document than both a divorce certificate and a divorce decree. The parties who were involved in the divorce may use these records to challenge any of the agreements listed within them, so it is often suggested that they keep them for personal record to use when filing for a change. A divorce record not only holds all the same information as the two previous documents, but also other dissolution of marriage records such as every file, report, and transcript produced during the case. Similar to other divorce papers in Washington, divorce records can be accessed and viewed by members of the public because they are considered family court cases. However, only the two participants in the divorce, along with their attorneys, can obtain certified copies of certain types of divorce papers in Washington.
How to Obtain Washington Family Court Records
In order for a member of the public to access a divorce record that is held in the state of Washington:
- Determine if the divorce was finalized before or after 1968.
- If it is before, these records can be found in the Superior Court Clerk’s Office of the county where the divorce took place.
- Follow the instructions provided on the superior court website of the county where the divorce was concluded. Fees vary from county to county.
- If the answer is after 1968, the requesting party must search through the WDH.
- To access a divorce record through the WDH, a completely filled-out request form is required.
Government public record search portals and third party public record websites both may provide court records search tools, which can help find divorce records, though record availability usually varies widely. Divorce records in particular may simply not be available through either source. Although Washington provides search portals for many state records, it may still be necessary to submit a request in person or by mail as divorce records can prove difficult to acquire due to their personal nature and tendency to involve minors, financial information, or abuse. The fee for obtaining divorce documents varies depending on if they are requested over the phone, by mail, or in person.
How to Order Washington Divorce Records by Mail
To order a divorce certificate in Washington using the mail, it is necessary to submit a request form with all necessary identification and fees associated with the request. Each document requested requires a separate request form. For divorces filed after 1968, mail the request form to:
Center for Health Statistics
Department of Health
P.O. Box 9709
Olympia WA 98507-9709
If the record was filed before 1968, mail in the request to the address of the clerk of court in the county where the divorce occurred. Turnover time for ordering by mail is 6-8 weeks.
How to Order Washington Divorce Records In-Person
To access divorce records in-person through the Department of Health, visit the Customer Service Counter in the office located at:
Center for Health Statistics
Department of Health
101 Israel Road SE
Tumwater, WA 98501
The office is open from 8:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding state holidays. Usually, requesting these documents in-person results in same day service, but visiting after 4:00 p.m. may not yield the same results.
How to Find Public Divorce Records Online
Washington provides the option of searching for and ordering divorce records online through its case records page using the names of the parties and the case number. It has been reported that this portal may periodically not function properly. Although interested parties can easily search divorce records in Washington through the case record page, complete records are only available through the court where the case was filed. Washington Courts also provides alternatives to their own record search program, but suggested portals may be third party websites, and as such, record availability is not guaranteed. To find records finalized within King County, requesting parties must visit the King County Clerk’s Record Access Portal.
How Much Do Washington Divorce Records Cost?
The cost of accessing certified copies of divorce records in Washington varies depending on how they are ordered. For walk-in service, the Department of Health accepts fees paid with cash, checks, money order, MasterCard, and Visa. Ordering by mail requires a check or money order. All checks and money orders should be made out to the Department of Health. Ordering these records by phone necessitates an electric payment using MasterCard or Visa. The cost of walk-in services and ordering records by mail is $20.00. When ordering divorce records over the phone, requesting parties will be charged $31.50.
Does Washington Recognize Common-Law Marriage?
Washington only recognizes common-law marriages that are formed in any state that supports this type of union. For a couple to be married in Washington, they must have a marriage license and ceremony. Washington recognizes domestic partnerships so long as one partner is over 62 years. The State also allows relationships similar to common law marriage, called "committed intimate relationships". Such relationships may be used as a basis for legal decisions and administering of marital rights. Some of the factors a court might consider when determining the nature of the relationship include:
- The length of the relationship
- Whether the couples cohabit
- If the relationship was exclusive
- How each partner benefitted from the relationship
- The commitment of both partners to the relationship
- If the partners shared and contributed resources such as running a joint account.
How to Get a Divorce in Washington
The process for filing for divorce in Washington is similar across state counties. All the necessary court forms used in filing for divorce (marriage dissolution) are provided online on the Washington Courts' court forms page.
Before filing for divorce, married couples are advised to consult with a divorce attorney. Because, an attorney can offer much-needed guidance and counsel regarding one's legal rights that may be impacted by a divorce. For instance, if one's financial rights to a portion of their spouse's pension or other property are not adequately protected, they may be lost during a divorce.
The initial step one must take to get a divorce in Washington is to gather certain information about themselves and their spouse. These includes the following:
- Both spouses' full legal names
- Date, city, state (or country) of the marriage
- Ones mailing address
Although not always required, additional information typically includes
- Ones spouse's mailing address
- Both spouse's driver's license and social security number
- List of personal property and real estate (real property) that one may want the judge to award them or their spouse
- List of outstanding commitments and separate debts sustained during the marriage.
After gathering all the necessary information, a spouse can complete the Petition for Divorce form (FL Divorce 201) and the Summons form (FL Divorce 200) and file them in the county superior court where they or their spouse reside. Note that the court must be served with the original divorce papers. Thereafter, copies of the original divorce papers must be served to the other spouse. The Agreement to Join Petition form (FL All Family 119), the Service Accepted form (FL All Family 117), or the agreement on the final page of the Petition for Divorce may be completed by the other spouse if they consent to an uncontested divorce.
An uncontested divorce simply means that both spouses accept the divorce agreement. The Petition for Divorce contains most divorce agreements, such as real property and child support agreements.
Inversely, the other spouse can complete and file the Response to Petition About a Marriage form (FL Divorce 211) if they disagree and wish to dispute the divorce agreements stated in the Petition for Divorce. Doing so would make the divorce a contested divorce. A divorce attorney usually gets involved in a contested divorce. Furthermore, the divorce may go to trial.
Despite the fact that state county divorce laws are uniform, local county court rules might have an impact on how a particular case is handled. Many counties require the use of unique forms, while others have local court rules that must be observed. Thus, it is important to call the court clerk’s office or family law facilitator for the court where you will file your case ahead of time to find out about their local requirements. Interested parties can also find local court rules online on the Washington Courts' Superior Court Rules page.
To complete the divorce filing process, the final divorce documents must be filed, approved, and signed off by the court.