King County Divorce – COVID-19 Update

King County Divorce – COVID-19 Update

COVID-19 UPDATE

Divorces in King County have gotten considerably more difficult with the state and county lockdowns because of the pandemic. The Superior Court website, with a series of Emergency Orders, is here. The Court’s Family Law Operations Fact Sheet is here

Parenting Plans Are Enforceable. Transporting children for a Parenting Plan transfer is a “mission-essential” trip.  If you have a concern about being stopped, take a copy of your Plan with you.  The crisis is NOT a basis to suspend visitation.  (Though most professional supervisors have suspended doing any supervised visitation.) 

I can still file a divorce. I can still finalize a divorce if we have agreed orders. Temporarily, King County has suspended the requirement for in person presentation for divorces with children. I can send agreed orders in, and have them signed in ex parte, as long as the parents have been to the parenting seminar. So I can do uncontested divorces fairly easily.

King County has also suspended the requirement for in person attendance at the parenting seminar. You still have to sign up for the seminar, but you can get an attendance certificate through email.

Family Court Services is still doing parenting mediations, though by phone or Skype, and is still trying to do parenting evaluations. But they cannot do in person evaluations at this point. So the ability of the evaluator to really see what’s going on with the children is very limited.

You can still get a DVPO, by going down to the courthouse. But expect to spend all day getting one. 

You can still do Family Law motions, but they are very limited. If it is an emergency, and concerns the safety of a child, or severe financial problems, you can file a motion and have it heard on the regular family law calendar. But the court is screening those motions, and will only hear those motions it thinks are serious enough to hear. The vast majority of family law motions are going to be postponed until after April 24, and may well get postponed after that even longer. So if you have a problem now, that the court may not consider serious, you will not be able to have the court make a decision until sometime in late April or later. 

Trials are on hold, until June 8th. Trials that are set before June 8th are going to be re-set. But essentially again, everything is in flux. We know trials are not going to happen before then, but we are not sure when they will happen after June 8. And if the pandemic continues to be bad, they may well get delayed again. 

There are workarounds.  You can hire a private arbitrator, to arbitrate disputes. But both sides have to agree to binding arbitration, and it typically costs $250-$300 per hour to have the arbitrator make a decision. That probably adds $600-1500 to the cost of the average motion. Everything will be done over the phone, or on Skype, or over Zoom.  The process is cumbersome.  And an arbitrator’s authority is limited: he or she cannot order someone to violate the Stay-In-Place order, for example. So they may not be able to order someone to move out of the family home while the Order is in place. 

It is possible to mediate disputes. Family law mediators are still mediating divorces, but they cannot be done in person. They have to be done over Skype, or Zoom. That is not the best of all possible ways to do mediation, but it does work. Many disputes that would normally be heard on the family law calendar, can be mediated, but because of the cost of using a mediator it will likely cost of debt more than it would cost to simply take it to court. And of course a mediator cannot make decisions, so there is some risk that you will spend the money, and get nowhere.

Essentially it is impossible, for most purposes, to get into court to get the court to make a decision. All of those problems will simply have to wait. What that means to you is: if you are thinking of starting a legal fight, and you are living together, do NOT expect to get into court and get the court to make a decision any time soon. 

 

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King County Divorce.

This is an overview of how the legal system works in King County, for family law and divorce cases. This is just an overview; if you are trying to do a case, this will be helpful, but do not depend on it for everything. The links to King County Superior Court and to the State’s Website are in my Resources section. You will also need to read the King County Local Family Law Rules and you can find more advice in the King County Family Law Section.

New Cases. When you initially file a divorce, or any new action, you need a Summons, a Petition, and some other files, depending on what kind of case you are filing. I have attached samples of these here: Murry – King Cty Sample Divorce.   These are examples; they are not guaranteed to work for your case. The forms are also on the State Website; but as you can see, they are not user-friendly.

Once you have the forms filled out, you need to file them. You can (1) set up an account with King County E-Filing (here); (2) go down to the Clerk’s Office (here) and file them personally; or (3) mail them in, along with the filing fee.  The fee schedule is here.  (If you use my services, of course, I take care of all that; I file everything electronically.)

If you are filing them in person, take a copy along with you; you will need to stamp it at the clerk’s office with the case schedule.

When you file the case, the clerk will assign a case number. That number looks like this: “16-3-12345-1 SEA”. That is the number the clerk’s office will use to track your case forever after.

Caption ScreenShot

Just filing the case does not start the divorce, legally, You still have to serve it on the other side.  If they are cooperating, they may well sign an Acceptance of Service. (Here.) If not, you will need to have them singed. You cannot serve them; but anyone else can. (Friend, neighbor, mother…)  You can serve anyone living at the place the other side is living in; or you can have them served personally.  A Return of Service form is attached here.  You need to file that form with the court when they are served.

Also, when you file a divorce in King County, the court clerk automatically issues a Temporary Restraining Order, similar to the one used in Snohomish County. These are issued in every divorce. This only deals with financial restraints, and not with use of cars, the children or child support.

A King County divorce – or any action, for that matter – does not formally, legally start until it is both filed and served. If it is a divorce, the 90 day clock starts to tick the later of the filing date or the service date.

Once the case is filed, King County has a pretty good case management system. The clerk assigns a judge when they issue the case schedule. The case schedule has a number of suspense and other dates (below), when you have to have things done by.  If I am your attorney, I handle this for you. If you are doing the divorce by yourself, then you need to be careful to read the rules. AND you really, really need to attend the Family Law Orientation Seminar.

Case Schedule Screenshot

For 90% of the issues that come up (who pays what bills, who gets the kids when) the Family Law Court will make a decision. The judge normally does not get involved until the end of the case. (See the section on motions procedure.)

If You Don’t Have An Attorney.  If you are not represented, the King County divorce process requires that you go to a 4 hour seminar (called the Family Law Orientation Seminar) on how the process works. There is a fee for this seminar ($20), and you have to go in the first 30 days. If you have an attorney (like me), then you do not have to go. If you do not go, there is a $30 fine that King County sends you a bill for – but it does not hold up the divorce. The seminar page is here.

If you have children: both parents need to go to a parenting seminar, as part of the King County divorce process, called What About The Children. You need to go before the Confirmation of Issues deadline. This is a low fee, but paid, seminar.  It lasts about 4 hours.

Disclosure of Possible Primary Witnesses.  List everyone you can think of who you might want to testify at trial.  This is filled out by both the Petitioner and the Respondent. If you do NOT disclose witnesses, the court can deny them testifying at trial. (Which is why you list everyone you can think of, on both sides. You may never call any of them; but you want to make sure they are listed.) You need to file it with the court, AND give the other side a copy.

Deadline for Discovery Cutoff. Any discovery you send out, has to be due back by this date.

Deadline for Engaging in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Otherwise called mediation or a settlement conference. King County (like Snohomish County) requires that everyone in a divorce go through mediation before going to trial. This is different from Family Court Services mediation; that only addresses the parenting plan. You can hire a mediator; or you can use the King County Volunteer Panel. (Here.)   Most divorces settle without going to trial.  But if you do settle it, you will sign something called a CR 2A Agreement; and you can’t then back out of the agreement.  So (1) go into mediation with the entire list of all the issues; and (2) be prepared to live with any agreement you come up with. Courts do NOT like to let you out of a signed Agreement.

If you didn’t settle the case, these become important:

Deadline For Exchange of Witness Lists and Exhibits.  This is the date by which you have to have the list of witnesses that you actually plan to use, and a list of exhibits, to the other side. (These are from the witness list you filed earlier.)  You need to supply complete, legible copies of all the exhibits as well. A sample Witness and Exhibit List is attached here.

Joint Statement of Evidence: This is a form that you are both supposed to work out, as to what witnesses you both plan to use, and what exhibits you will both agree to.  The basis for that (what the Rules of Evidence allow) is beyond the scope of this section; but generally, in divorce and family law cases, the court will let in almost any document but a declaration. (Which is hearsay.)

Trials. Call me.