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Getting a divorce can have serious, long-term effects, both emotionally and legally. There are also strict legal requirements that cover everything from choosing a method of legal separation to selecting where and how to file, to deciding how the property should be divided. The divorce process can be confusing, especially without legal assistance. FindLaw's directory can connect you with trusted divorce lawyers in Washington to guide you through the divorce process and minimize the stress you experience during this difficult time.
What Is the Difference Between Divorce and Separation?
There are several distinctions between divorce and separation.
First, legal separation may be a court-mandated step of the divorce process, with some states requiring that potential divorcees spend some time living apart in a form of legal separation before proceeding to formal divorce.
Outside of this requirement, legal separation is reversible, while divorce is not. Once you have been declared divorced from a former spouse, there is no going back. Legally separated spouses retain the right to inherit property as well, and may not remarry (as they are still considered married, despite separation).
What Are Alternatives to Divorce?
Depending on your circumstances, you may have other options for ending your marriage besides a divorce. Many states offer legal separations, which can allow spouses to make some of the same decisions as a divorce regarding their shared property, child custody, and child support. This option doesn't legally end the marriage and is generally used when couples want to retain their marriage status for religious or health care reasons.
An annulment, on the other hand, has the same legal effect as a divorce but does so by declaring your marriage was never valid in the first place. Reasons for an annulment could be that one spouse was already married, was tricked into the marriage, or was too young at the time to legally marry.
What Is the Difference Between an Annulment and Divorce?
While divorce may be permanent, it does not dispute the fact that a marriage was legally enacted and in existence in the first place.
An annulment, however, is very similar to a divorce as it may involve a dividing of assets, custody and visitation negotiations, and so on — but an annulment means that the marriage was established on false pretenses. If a man discovers, for example, that his wife has been lying about an extensive criminal past (or present), or that she was never formally divorced from a former spouse, he may file for an annulment rather than a divorce.
If an annulment is successful, it is — from a legal perspective — as if the marriage did not ever truly exist. Annulments can also be sought for religious reasons, particularly given the gravity of divorce in the understanding of certain faiths.
Do You Have to Have a Reason for Divorce?
A no-fault divorce allows a court to enter a divorce decree without one party having to legally prove the other party did something wrong in the marriage. Instead, one spouse may simply allege that the marriage has broken down and there's no reasonable hope it can be preserved, and a divorce can be granted with or without the other spouse's consent. Every state in the United States, including Washington allow "no-fault" divorce, though the requirements to apply for and obtain such a divorce can vary by jurisdiction.
Steps in a Divorce or Divorce Proceedings
Though divorce is quite common, those who are filing for divorce for the first time may not be familiar with the process.
The first step in divorce proceedings is for one spouse to file the divorce petition, the contents of which — as well as the general eligibility to file in the first place — may be dictated at the state level. Broadly speaking, the divorce petition must contain an affirmation that the filing spouse is eligible to make a legal divorce petition, the grounds for the divorce and any other particulars required by each jurisdiction.
Next is requesting any temporary orders concerning custody (legal or physical) and any necessary economic or housing support that is applicable during the divorce proceedings. Status quo orders concerning payments of financial support monies, property restraining orders protecting a shared estate from being looted by one partner or another prior to the split, and other such temporary orders may be requested by the filing spouse and judged in court.
The filing spouse must serve papers to the receiving spouse, along with proof of having done so. Once that's happened, it is the receiving spouse's responsibility to respond, including any disputes (particularly in the case of a fault divorce, versus a no-fault divorce) within a timely manner.
Any negotiations or settlements that can be laid to rest before a trial are then typically worked out, particularly when both sides have retained legal counsel. A trial ensues over the remainder of the disputed items if necessary, and then a judgment is rendered.