Walk in the Shoes of a King County Employee – Family Law Facilitator Program
My job as King County Executive requires advocating for and balancing the needs of residents, employees, and the region as a whole. My years as an attorney working on behalf of clients taught me that fighting it out until there is a winner and a loser is usually less productive than figuring out what would work best for everyone involved. So I was excited for my first Walk in the Shoes this year – with legal staff in King County Superior Court’s Family Law Facilitator Program.
The Early Resolution Case Managers (ERCMs) are attorneys who provide information and referrals (but not direct legal advice) to people with family law issues who are not represented by attorneys.
King County’s ERCM program, founded in 2011, is the only one of its kind in Washington State. There are no income requirements to participate, and a sliding fee scale is used.
Family Law Information Center Manager Jamie Perry gave me an overview of the office’s work, and ERCMs Kevin Rowles and Christina Luera discussed the office’s varied services, including its Family Law Orientation. The one-hour class for unrepresented parties explains in plain language how a case usually works, from start to finish.
Next, I sat in with Christina while she conducted a mediation, which is a meeting with two people and a neutral third person—often an attorney—aimed at resolving disagreements outside of the court process. At issue was a parenting plan for divorcing parents, covering custody of a child, visitation schedules, and decision-making processes.
Although one party was there in person and the other participated over the phone, Christina was able to reach agreement on where the child would spend holidays and special occasions, and several other issues.
After I thanked everyone for allowing me to observe, Kevin and I met with King County Superior Court Judge Lori Smith, King County’s Chief Unified Family Court Judge. They reviewed a number of cases under the Simple Dissolution (Divorce) Program, which enables parties who jointly file for a divorce to finish their case without further court appearances, as long as they have no minor children and are in basic agreement about the division of marital debts and property.
After Judge Smith reviewed and approved the orders we had a chance to “talk shop” as fellow attorneys about the related legal issues and her role as Chief Unified Family Court Judge. It was clear that ending a marriage is rarely easy, even in cases we label “simple.” The Simple Dissolution Program helped resolve nearly 500 cases last year without the need for a trial, saving time and expense for participants, and reducing the court’s case load.
Afterwards, we stopped by the Division of Child Support in the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney’s office to obtain review and approval of an Order of Child Support for a case involving a child receiving state benefits. There, we met with Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Saltvig, my former law school colleague, who reviewed the documents to confirm they were consistent with the State’s interests.
Returning to the Family Law Information Center (FLIC), Kevin and two clients allowed me to listen as they walked through options for their marriage dissolution. Kevin quickly resolved the areas of dispute, reviewed the necessary forms, and gathered signatures. For those who need this service, the staff is able to provide thoughtful options and a clear path through the complex, emotional process of ending a marriage.
Spending time with the staff allowed me to see how the team coordinates resources to help customers. For example, during my visit, a FLIC staff member referred a customer whose case had been filed incorrectly. As a practicing attorney, I have seen this kind of issue, so I was able to discuss an appropriate fix with Kevin, and obtain information from the County Recorder’s Office webpage to help complete the appointment. I was glad for the unexpected opportunity to do a little hands-on legal work.
I thank Kevin, Jamie, and Christina, and the dedicated staff in the Family Law Information Center – as well as the customers who allowed me to participate in their cases. I look forward to seeing firsthand more of the great and varied work performed every day by King County employees. Of course, it’s a big enterprise and I can’t be everywhere, but please send an invitation if you would like me to come see you and your team.
King County Executive