Lorna L. Bigsby, Divorce & Family Law Litigation

This traditional process places ultimate decision making in the hands of a Superior Court Judge who will, after a formal trial, announce a decision for you and the other party or parties involved in your family law case.

Litigation follows a prescribed course, and is governed by complex and detailed laws and court rules.

Litigation normally includes these steps:

  1. Filing: A Petition is filed and served on the other party (the “Respondent”) which lays out the Petitioner’s desired outcome;
  2. Temporary Relief: A motion or motions are filed by the attorneys, asking the court to grant orders which will remain in place until the case is formally completed. These may include: child support, spousal support (“maintenance”), occupancy rights to a residence, parenting arrangements for children, responsibility for debts and expenses, and attorney’s fees.
  3. Discovery: Each attorney pursues information from the other party through written questions (“interrogatories”) or demand for documents (“requests for production”) and/or depositions (an “interview” under oath, recorded word for word by a court reporter). Information is assembled and supplemented, as each side tries to build its case for the client’s desired outcome.
  4. Negotiation/Mediation: At this stage, the parties and their counsel establish their positions on the issues in the case, applying legal principles to the facts, and begin bargaining with one another to see if agreement can be reached. If unsuccessful, they may engage in some form of alternate dispute resolution (“ADR”) either voluntarily, or because the court system requires such an effort prior to a formal trial. Mediation (more information) is an informal but structured negotiation in which parties attempt to determine the outcome, rather than having it imposed upon them by the court.
  5. Trial: Trial occurs when negotiations fail. This is the formal adversarial model in which each lawyer prepares and presents their client’s case to a judge through witness testimony, documentary “exhibits” and argument, with the goal of “winning” on the issues that could not be compromised in informal negotiations. The judge determines the outcome, based primarily on his/her belief as to what is “fair” regarding the overall financial settlement. Special issues such as child support and parenting plans focus more upon the facts the court determines to be true from the trial (child support in the State of Washington is determined by a mandatory child support schedule, available on this site).

Litigation remains an important family law process option, the availability of which assures that a case will be concluded, even when one of the parties is resistant, or abusive. However, trial is a time consuming and costly process for the participants, both financially, and emotionally. Trial may actually create new conflicts, and feelings of hostility that persist beyond the courtroom. These can have particularly devastating effect on the children of the couple who have chosen to resolve their disputes in this manner.

To find out more about the manner in which Washington courts deal with litigated family law cases, to learn if your case fits the litigation model, or might be better resolved through a different, less formal process, please contact Lorna L. Bigsby.