by Samuel K. Darling, Bellevue Divorce Lawyer
How do you enter agreed orders in a Washington State divorce or family law case? Find and complete the order templates on Washington’s Court Forms Website under Family Law > [case-type]. Typically, the forms are self-explanatory. Have all parties – usually just two parties – sign at the bottom. Then obtain ex parte signatures from a judge or commissioner, make copies for the parties, and file the originals with the court clerk’s office.
The remainder of this article provides more detail for those who want it.
Table of Contents
I. What Are Agreed Orders
II. Common Agreed Orders
III. Which Documents Do You Need
IV. Petition First
V. How to Present Agreed Orders to the Court
VI. Ex Parte Signature
VII. Agreed Final Orders
1. Present All Final Orders Together
2. Final Child Support Order & Parenting Plan
3. Solidifying Agreement on Final Orders in a Divorce
4. Retirement Orders in a Divorce or Legal Separation
5. Final Proof When Entering Final Orders Ending a Marriage
VIII. Agreed Divorce & Family Law Services
I. What Are Agreed Orders?
As the name suggests, agreed orders result when parties reach agreement on what the court should do. Rather than go through the litigation process, they can present the court with their agreement in the form of one or more orders. Generally, the court will sign the order(s) into effect with little or no hassle or cost.
As a precaution against someone fraudulently presenting an order as “agreed”, both parties need to sign the document at the bottom, indicating their assent. The template orders on Washington’s Court Forms Website have self-explanatory signature blocks designed for this.
II. Common Agreed Orders.
In family law, common categories of agreed orders include 1) agreed temporary orders and 2) agreed final orders. Temporary orders can only exist during the case’s pendency. There are often many documents that constitute temporary orders, such as a temporary parenting plan, temporary child support order, temporary monthly maintenance award, and temporary restraining order.
Final orders are what the court enters at the end of the case. Like with temporary orders, there can be many of them, such as final parenting plan, child support order, divorce decree, findings and conclusions, and restraining order.
III. Which Documents do You Need?
Sometimes it isn’t obvious which orders you’ll need, because there are so many variations. Use Washington’s Court Forms Website to help you zero in on all the orders applicable to your scenario. The website groups related forms under headings.
It’s especially easy to find templates for the final orders for virtually any family law case type. The website usually groups them together under two captions at most – one for final orders you always need and another for additional documents necessary for child-related matters. For example, final orders in a divorce would require a divorce decree, findings and conclusions, and, if children are involved, a parenting plan, a child support order, and child support worksheets.
The forms necessary for temporary orders can be more difficult to identify. For extra help with temporary orders for a divorce, you might benefit from reading our article on How to Get Temporary Orders in a Washington State Divorce. It identifies kinds of relief available and the associated order templates.
IV. Petition First.
The court can enter orders only if you have an active case. That means one of the parties must start the case by filing a petition with the court before or simultaneous to entry of agreed orders. For example, you couldn’t enter agreed temporary or final orders in a divorce without first filing a divorce petition and accompanying documents.
Just like with agreed orders, you can start a case by agreement. Look up your case-type on the Washington Court Forms Website, and find the heading with templates for the documents you’ll need. Notably, you don’t need a summons or to serve the other party(ies) if the other party(ies) sign the joinder section at the bottom of the petition. Joinder means the responding party agrees with everything the petition states.
An advantage of petitioning by joinder is the freedom to file in any Washington county. Sometimes parties elect to file agreed cases in counties where they don’t live for privacy reasons. But if there’s ever a dispute in the case, the parties incur extra expense and hassle transferring the matter to one of their home counties for litigation.
V. How to Present Agreed Orders to the Court for Entry.
Parties can present one or more agreed orders at a hearing or trial. They can also agree on some of the issues or orders and ask the court to decide the remaining ones at the hearing or trial. Setting a hearing or trial isn’t necessary though if the parties agree on all the terms in the order. Generally jurists will sign a fully agreed order ex parte, meaning with only one party present and no advance notice. Often judges and commissioners don’t even require a written motion when entering an agreed order ex parte.
VI. Ex Parte Signature.
The process of gaining access to a judge or commission to present agreed orders ex parte varies between each county’s superior court. Smaller counties usually allow any party who asks to enter the judge’s chambers (office) and present an ex parte order, assuming the judge is available. Larger counties have an ex parte courtroom where a commissioner signs agreed orders almost all day long – you just show up and put your name on the list of people in line. The largest counties additionally offer online ex parte submission of scanned agreed orders.
To find out how it’s done in the county handling your family law case, you might try searching the county’s superior court website and/or local rules. You can also try asking around at the courthouse. Sometimes you need to speak briefly with a local attorney, LLLT, or family law facilitator about local rules and norms. Facilitators are the least expensive option at $10 per session but only offer basic assistance.
VII. Agreed Final Orders.
Entering agreed temporary orders is a simple matter, and jurists rarely bat an eye. Final orders are different. Keep the following in mind.
1. Present All Final Orders Together. Jurists often refuse to enter (sign) agreed final orders piecemeal. You usually ask the court to enter all agreed orders at once. The main exception is entry of retirement orders, which are separate documents ordering retirement plan administrators to divide a parties’ retirement accounts. Parties can almost always enter retirement orders later.
2. Final Child Support Order & Parenting Plan. Courts will usually enter any order the parties agree to, but not agreed child support orders and parenting plans. Jurists scrutinize these orders to ensure they’re in the child(ren)’s best interest.
This means child support orders must comply with child support laws. Our firm has a separate article on the basics of calculating child support in Washington. Often parties try entering agreed child support orders setting the transfer amount at zero. Normally this won’t work. Normally child support is required. It’s intended for the child(ren)’s benefit, not the parents’.
You can nonetheless enter a zero-sum child support transfer payment if the parties have equal or nearly equal residential time and the obligor (the person paying support) makes less money than the obligee (the person receiving the support). Click here for an example zero-transfer child support order. Normally the court will enter an order of this kind only when the parties’ case fits this fact pattern and they agree to the zero-transfer.
As for agreed final parenting plans, the court will usually require parties – or at least the party presenting the final orders – to first take an approved parenting class and file a certificate proving attendance. Similarly, courts typically refuse to enter a final parenting plan until the parties submit to a background check, sometimes called a Judicial Information System (JIS) background check. The specifics vary depending on each county’s local rules and norms. Again, you might be able to find this information on the county website or local rules website, or you might need to speak with a local practitioner or family law facilitator.
Don’t worry too much about the background check. It’s intended as a check against extremes. Jurists don’t want a molester, recent DV abuser, or recently convicted addict to have significant unsupervised time with the child(ren). But as a rule of thumb, courts expects children to have at least some time with both parents unless one parent has something extremely negative in his or background. An example might be child molestation or long-term abandonment.
If the court appointed a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is your case, he or she will need to sign off on any parenting-related orders, including the agreed parenting plan. The GAL doesn’t need to sign off on support-related orders, such as child support orders.
Local county prosecutors need to sign child support orders for cases in which the state has an interest. The state has an interest in cases in which the child(ren) receive(d) state benefits, such as TANF or subsidized health insurance.
3. Solidifying Agreement on Final Orders in a Divorce. Be aware of the special need to bind parties to agreed terms in pending divorce cases. Parties can’t finalize a divorce until 91+ days after the start of the case, defined as the earlier of a) the date the petition was served or b) the respondent joined the petition (signed the joinder section). If the parties filed their petition by joinder, their agreement on the petition’s terms isn’t necessarily binding. Either party can revoke the joinder at any time prior to entry of final orders. Commonly parties fall out of agreement in those 91+ days between the start of the case and entry of final orders. Divorcing parties bicker. That’s often why they’re divorcing.
To solidify the agreed final terms of your divorce, consider signing a settlement agreement, sometimes called a CR 2A agreement. Unfortunately even if you have settlement agreement, the other party might subsequently dispute the exact wording of the final orders you draft.
Best practice is to memorialize your settlement agreement by drafting agreed final orders and attaching a settlement cover sheet. Click the link in the preceding sentence for an article detailing how to do this.
4. Retirement Orders in a Divorce or Legal Separation. As mentioned above, nearly every final order you might need is on the Washington Court Forms Website. The main exceptions are retirement orders, such as qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs) and military retirement orders. They’re complex and have pitfalls even if the plan administrator offers seemingly simple templates. Do not attempt to draft these on your own. If it’s worth drafting one, it’s worth hiring someone who focuses on retirement orders to help. At the time of this writing our firm knows of only two competent attorneys in Washington who do this. One is Dru Horenstein. The other is Wayne Harris. Our firm has no affiliation with either.
Properly drafted retirement orders have several benefits. The most important is avoiding tax and penalties when transferring retirement funds from one spouse (or ex-spouse) to the other.
5. Final Proof When Entering Final Orders Ending a Marriage. As you’ve probably gathered, finalizing divorces is more complex than other kinds of family law cases. It gets worse. Some counties require a party to give “final proof” just before a judge or commissioner signs agreed final orders ending a marriage.
Final proof typically involves the court swearing in one of the parties and confirming the primary findings in the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. At this point in the process you should already have a copy of the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law – it’s one of the required final orders listed on the Washington Court Forms Website. Bring an extra copy for the attorney, if any, who will be conducting final proof.
Either the court or an attorney conducts final proof by posing as questions the primary findings in the Findings and Conclusions. For example, in a divorce one of the questions will be “The parties’ marriage is irretrievably broken, correct?” The party should answer each of the questions with “yes”. It’s often a good idea to rehearse this once with the party who will be sworn in.
When entering final proof, substitute the following questions in place of specific findings about property, the parenting plan, and child support:
- Property. “The parties have allocated all their assets and debts, both separate and community, and is that allocation is fair, correct?”
- Parenting Plan. “The parties are entering a parenting plan for their child(ren), and that parenting plan is in the child(ren)’s best interest, correct?”
- Child Support. “The parties are entering a child support order for their child(ren), and that order contains no imputation of income or deviations from the standard calculation, correct?” If this is false, ask leading questions explaining the basis for any imputation or deviations. See our article on calculating child support in Washington for explanations of these terms.
The court also appreciates the following questions at the end of final proof:
- Names. Ask whether the party wants a name change.
- Alterations. “No one has altered these agreed final orders since the parties or their attorneys signed them, correct?”
- Divorce or Legal Separation. “You are entering a decree of divorce, not legal separation, [or vice versa] correct?”
Some counties will not allow unrepresented parties to present final orders ex parte because of final proof. In those counties, unrepresented parties have to present final orders on a pro se dissolution calendar. A family law facilitator can help set this up quickly and inexpensively.
VIII. Agreed Divorce & Family Law Services.
There’s still hope if all this seems like too much work, and you can’t afford an attorney. Parties who agree on everything can use an agreed family law service for agreed petitions and entry of agreed family law orders. A service of this type handles the entire thing from petition to end for a very low price – often several hundred dollars plus the cost of the court filing fee. By comparison, an attorney might charge several thousand dollars.
- The parties have to be in agreement on every single term to use an agreed family law service.
- Many agreed family law services are sloppy and cause more harm than good. Our firm recommends Peaceful Separations. We have no affiliation.
- Agreed family law services typically handle only simple cases and provide simplistic final orders. They don’t offer much if any advice, craft nuanced language, or handle things like retirement orders.
- Services of this type have streamlined systems requiring you to utilize their services from the beginning of the case until end. You’ll probably need to dismiss your case if you started it on your own.
That’s all! We hope this was helpful. Our firm believes in making quality legal information available for free on the internet. For more free articles, guides, and videos, visit our website and click the resources tab in the upper right corner.
Or call us at 866-631-0028 to speak with a Genesis divorce lawyer in Bellevue or Everett, Washington.
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