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.