Commissioner Eric B. Watness (Ret.), an experienced neutral, has successfully resolved many disputes involving all aspects of marriage dissolutions, such as property division, child support, parenting and visitation plans, termination of parental rights, non-parental custody, and claims of domestic violence. He has also handled matters involving same sex and domestic partnerships and he has particular expertise in adoption matters. He is lauded for his calm demeanor and his ability to make all parties feel heard in what are typically very contested and emotional disputes.
Commissioner Watness’s experience is both extensive and varied. He spent 16 years as a Court Commissioner with the King County Superior Court in their Ex Parte and Probate Departments, and Family Law and Juvenile Courts where he also conducted trials as Judge Pro Tem and handled numerous judicial settlement conferences.
In addition, he practiced law for 13 years handling family law, adult guardianships, probate and adoption matters, and five years as Assistant Attorney General representing the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, child support and juvenile dependency.
- Adoption: Expertise in adoption matters, both domestic and foreign. As a practitioner represented private adoption agencies. Resolved a failed foreign adoption of an older child who demonstrated significant behavior problems. This was the second adoptive placement. State authorities refused to step in to take the child into custody in this interstate matter. Ultimately, the child successfully entered into third party custody with yet another family where the father, a retired professional football player turned probation officer, assumed her care and was able to establish a supportive but firm parental role with the child.
- Characterization of property: Made judicial determination of character of property where the domestic partnership acquired property in one nominal capacity but converted to another character for financing and zoning purposes while failing to retain a clear record of title.
- Custody: Heard numerous cases where parents of child who recently turned age 18 had significant competency issues and the parents sought to control the child’s care plan and contested custody issues which ordinarily would have ended at the child’s majority.
- Child support: Mediated matter regarding child support in a meretricious relationship. In a DSHS appeal of child support services, handled the appeal to the Washington Supreme Court involving a challenge to the authority of the Office of Support Enforcement to commit governmental resources to assist parents not receiving child support enforcement services.
- Domestic violence/abuse: Mediated highly sensitive matter involving dispute where a child in a joint custody situation was allegedly abused. Conducted an unusual judicial settlement conference between divorcing parties where there had been an adjudication of domestic violence against the husband; the parties reached agreement on all issues concerning property division, child support and parenting plan as well as therapeutic requirements necessary to permit more liberal contact with the minor child.
- Legal separation: Reviewed conversion of legal separations to dissolution decree.
- Parenting plans: Mediated and settled parent plan issues in multiple divorce matters. Mediated parenting plan issues in a matter involving a non-married couple and where the father lived in another country. Handled issues of post-majority support for disabled children related to social security issues. Resolved emergent problems with border crossings with children. Handled relocation motions concerning moving children out of state. Administered a case involving improper movement of a child from one state to another without compliance through the Interstate Compact on Child Custody Jurisdiction. Addressed UCCJA issues including conferences with judges in other states concerning complicated jurisdiction issues related to emergent child custody questions.
- Paternity: Ruled on motions to vacate parentage orders. Heard decrees entered where a child is not yet born. Handled an appeal as GAL for a child where the father raised issues challenging the Uniform Parentage Act and defenses based on detrimental reliance on the mother’s representations about her infertility. Asked to order an exhumation of remains for the purpose of determining identity of the decedent and his relationship to a child in a posthumous paternity action.
- Pre-nuptial agreements: Settled contentious dispute involving out of state properties, a retirement fund and a boat, where one spouse was challenging the 4 year-old pre-nuptial agreement as being unfair. Review and enforcement of pre-nuptial agreements in same sex domestic partnerships.
- QDRO’s: Review and approval as well as handling subsequent revised QDRO’s.
- Awarded, Betty B. Fletcher Judge of the Year to all King County Superior Court Commissioners by Washington Women Lawyers, 2011
- Member, Washington State Bar Association Elder Law Section, serving on Executive Committee as co-chair of grants committee, 2011
- Member, Washington State Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Section, 2011
- Awarded, Angel in Adoption Award, Congressional Coalition on Adoption by nomination of Washington Rep. Jay Inslee, 2010
- Awarded, Outstanding Leadership and Commitment, Guardianship GAL Program Chair King County Bar Association, 2009
- Member, Guardianship/Probate Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 2009-present
- Member, Washington Court Improvement Program Grant Steering Committee, By appointment of the Washington State Supreme Court, 2005-present
- Judicial Co-Chair, King County Bar Association Guardianship GAL continuing education program, 2000-present
- Member, King County Unified Family Court Committee, 2000-2001
- Awarded, Outstanding Achievement Award, Region 4 Adoption Project Washington DSHS Div of Child and Family Services, 2000
- Member, Family and Juvenile Law Judges Committee, Washington Superior Court Judges Association, 1991-present
- Member and Past President, Washington Family Support Council, 1979-1981
- Participates as a student and presenter in frequent continuing legal education programs focused on family law, elder abuse, probate, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency.
- Court Commissioner, King County Superior Court, Ex Parte and Probate Department and Juvenile Court Department, 1995-2011
- Founding partner and Attorney at Law, Eric B. Watness and Associates, Seattle, 1982-1995
- Assistant Attorney General, Washington State Attorney General, Representing Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, 1977-1982
- J.D., Willamette University College of Law, Salem, OR, 1977
- B.S. in Sociology and History, Portland State University, Portland, OR, 1974
- Portland Community College, Portland, OR, 1970-1971
- Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, 1966-1967
- "[Settling two difficult cases] was in large part due to the tireless efforts of Commissioner Eric Watness (Ret.) from JAMS."
- Seattle Attorney
- “[Commissioner Watness] is impossible to ruffle. He is very practical, uses good common sense and parties feel they have been listened to. He is willing to make the hard decisions.”
- Prominent Seattle Area Lawyer
- “[Commissioner Watness] gets into the details of the case and is tenacious. He takes initiative, is creative in looking for a resolution.”
- Washington State Attorney
- “Thank you so much for your patience, calmness and professionalism through the mediation process. The fear of the unknown turned to a burst of confidence when I met you! The outcome was a ‘win-win’ for both parties.”
- “I was impressed at how well Commissioner Watness knew the facts of our very complicated estates at the outset of the mediation. His preparation definitely helped us through the process. Further, his patience and knowledge helped greatly.”
- “Commissioner Watness was great! His excellent, unbiased skills on the bench have translated into excellent, unbiased skills as a mediator.”
- “Commissioner Watness was outstanding. He was thoughtful and very kind with my client. He swiftly produced a very fair deal.”
- “When Commissioner Watness was on the bench, I thought he did a great job, was up on the issues and familiar with the law. I feel he was able to transfer that to his mediation practice. It was clear he read the materials, understood the issues and was prepared. Commissioner Watness was able to clarify the issues with the parties then start focusing on them to come to a settlement.”
- “Commissioner Watness handled the matter brilliantly. I think he made both sides feel comfortable and I think that helped the case settle.”
- “Commissioner Watness was well prepared and clearly understood the complicated history of this matter. He paid close attention to the legal and practical concerns of my client and gave honest assessments of our case.”
- “Commissioner Watness knows the subject matter and is good with the emotions as well. I appreciated Commissioner Watness’ ability to switch gears from talking about the law and facts to helping the parties with emotional issues.”
- “His experience as a commissioner helped both parties understand the likely outcome at trial.”
- “[Commissioner Watness has…] knowledge of family law and a calm demeanor when dealing with exceptionally high conflict parties.”
- “[Commissioner Watness has…] listening skills and the ability to assess the case quickly. [He has an…] ability to communicate assessment to client in effective manner.”
- “[Commissioner Watness has…] good ability to explain the process and the benefits of reaching a resolution and the need to put emotions aside to the extent possible.”
This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More