Family Law: Understanding the King County Case Schedule Order and its Deadlines

What is the King County Case Schedule Order? When you file for divorce or for modification of a parenting plan in King County, or start a parentage action, the Clerk will hand you (or your lawyer, if you have one) a mysterious four-page document with a series of dates and numerous instructions. If you are the respondent, the petitioner must serve you with a copy of this same mysterious document after the case is filed. This document is the Case Schedule Order, and it is a very important piece of paper which dictates much of what must occur in your case over the next year or so. If your case is a child support modification, you will also receive a case schedule, but there are fewer deadlines and a shorter (three-month) timetable during which the case must be finished.

Understanding

What is the most important date on the King County Case Schedule Order? The first date you should locate is at the bottom of the list of dates on the third page. This date, which is always a Monday, unless Monday is a holiday, is the date that, if the case cannot be settled and is not dismissed, there will be a trial of all issues to be decided between the parties. Almost every other deadline in the case is calculated from the trial date. There is no requirement that the case continue until that date–a dissolution, for example, can be finalized ninety-one days after service and filing, if the parties are in agreement, or if the respondent fails to appear or respond to the petition. There is a deadline on the Case Schedule Order for the last day that a motion to change the trial date can be made. This date is approximately fourteen weeks before the trial date set in the Order. It is possible to change a trial date after this deadline passes, but more difficult.

Can I find the name of the judge assigned to my case on the King County Case Schedule Order? The next useful piece of information appears in the upper right-hand corner of the Case Schedule Order–the name of the judge assigned to the case. This judge will hear any motions relating to the administration of the case, and will supervise the case’s progress through the legal system. The Family Law Commissioners, not the trial judge, will hear any motions on matters such as temporary child support and temporary parenting plans. If you seek to “revise” (appeal) a decision of a Commissioner, your trial judge will be the judge reviewing the actions taken by that commissioner. It is not uncommon for a case to be reassigned from the original judge partway through a case. One reason this might happen is that your initial judge has been reassigned to hear only criminal cases for a period of time. It is also not unusual for a case to be reassigned at the last minute (as late as the Friday before trial) if your judge does not have any time in his or her schedule in the coming week.

What is the meaning of the other dates on the King County Case Schedule Order? It is important to review the dates listed below the first “Case Event,” which is always the date of the filing of the action. Some of the Case Events require that a particular document must be filed with the Superior Court Clerk. These Case Events are marked with a check mark on the Case Schedule Order. Other Case Events only require that you exchange information with the opposing party. Even if your opponent does not meet the deadlines, you are still required to do so.

First, the person starting the action must file proof that the action was served on the respondent by about three weeks after the filing. After about three months, the petitioner must file, and the respondent cooperate in the filing of, the Confirmation of Issues (or a Confirmation of Blood Testing in parentage cases). This long document has a number of check boxes on it and is designed to tell the Clerk’s Office how the case is moving along. If you don’t file the Confirmation of Issues on time, the parties are supposed to attend a Status Conference on the date set on the case schedule order. The Joint Status Report, which is due 120 days before the trial date, requiring the parties to calculate backwards from the date of trial, is a similar document that again reports to the trial judge how the case is moving along.

After this group of filings with the court, the Case Schedule requires both parties to make a series of disclosures to the other. The theory behind this requirement is that the parties are nudged into making preparation for trial, which also puts them in a position to settle their cases if possible. The parties disclose their possible primary witnesses, their possible rebuttal witnesses, and finally exchange their witness and exhibit lists and copies of their documentary exhibits. As you might imagine, this works best when both parties are cooperating.

Are there any other important deadlines on the King County Case Schedule Order? There is a deadline by which the parties are required to have conducted a settlement conference. The existence of this deadline is spelled out on the face of the Case Schedule Order, although the date, which is thirty days before trial, is not calculated on the face of the Order. Buried on page four of the Order, there are related requirements that counsel for petitioner must submit a written settlement demand 45 days before the trial, and counsel for respondent respond ten days later. Meeting these deadlines can be helpful in moving settlement discussions along.

Another very important deadline is the discovery cutoff, which occurs five weeks before the trial date. This is the date by which all formal discovery requested from the opposing side, or from third parties, must be complete. Thus, if you are submitting requests to which the other side has 30 days to respond, you must serve the requests on the other side at least 30 days before the cutoff, and allow time for proper service of the requests as well.

Can the deadlines on the King County Case Schedule Order be changed? It is quite common for the trial judge, at a Final Pre-Trial Conference several months before trial, to change many of the final deadlines for exchange of documents and preparation of joint Statement of Evidence, for example to see if the parties can settle the case without going to the trouble and expense of preparing exhibits and joint statement of evidence.

Are there other case deadlines that are not listed on the King County Case Schedule Order? Oh, yes! Anyone representing themselves or others in King County Superior Court would be well-advised to review, among other sources, the Rules for Superior Court and the King County Local Rules, particularly KCLR 94.04