What are the legal considerations for same-sex couples seeking a divorce in Washington?

Understanding Divorce for Same-Sex Couples in Washington

Same-sex marriage was legalized across the United States in June 2015 following the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. Since then, same-sex couples have had the right to marry and, by extension, the right to divorce under the same laws that apply to heterosexual couples. However, there are unique legal considerations that same-sex couples seeking a divorce in Washington should be aware of.

Residency Requirements

Before filing for divorce in Washington, at least one of the spouses must be a resident of the state. Washington's no-fault divorce laws mean that the filing spouse does not need to prove wrongdoing by the other party; instead, they can cite 'irretrievable breakdown' of the marriage as the reason for seeking a divorce.

Division of Property and Assets

In Washington, which is a community property state, all property and debts acquired during the marriage are considered owned equally by both spouses and are divided accordingly upon divorce. However, same-sex couples may face challenges if they have been in a long-term relationship prior to their marriage being legally recognized. In such cases, determining what is considered 'community property' can be complex.

Child Custody and Support

Custody and support of children are primarily decided based on the best interests of the child. For same-sex couples, establishing parentage can be more complex, especially if only one parent is biologically related to the child or if there was no formal adoption process completed for a non-biological parent.

Alimony Considerations

Alimony, also known as spousal maintenance, is awarded based on several factors such as the duration of the marriage, financial resources of each spouse, and their standard of living during the marriage. Long-term partnerships that transitioned into legally recognized marriages may pose difficulties in calculating alimony owing to the pre-marriage period.

Dissolution of Domestic Partnerships

Prior to same-sex marriage legalization, many couples entered into domestic partnerships. In Washington, these partnerships were converted to marriages unless action was taken to dissolve them prior to June 30, 2014. It is important for individuals who were in domestic partnerships to understand how this conversion affects their rights in a divorce scenario.

Recognition of Marriage in Other Jurisdictions

If a same-sex couple married in Washington but now resides in a jurisdiction where their marriage is not recognized, they may face challenges when seeking a divorce. It is critical for such couples to seek legal advice on how to proceed with their dissolution.


The dissolution of any marriage involves complex emotional and legal processes. For same-sex couples in Washington, it's essential to navigate these processes with a thorough understanding of both federal and state laws as they apply to their unique situations. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney who specializes in LGBTQ+ issues can provide invaluable guidance through this challenging time.