For any family law action that is started by a petition in the State of Washington, the person filing the petition is called “Petitioner.” The non-petitioning party is called “Respondent.” Family law petition forms for the various types of cases are already drafted and their use in family court is mandated by statute. Under Superior Court Rule 2A, the Respondent may choose to not contest the relief requested of the Court by joining the Petitioner’s petition. That choice to not contest is called “Joinder” and is evidenced by the Respondent signing, serving and filing with the Court the Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder). That form is available on the Washington State Court Forms website designated as FL All Family 119.
However, there is a saying, “The Devil is in the details,” which means that hidden traps can be small and obscure. One trap in the Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) form is the first check box which states, “I do not need to be notified about the court’s hearings or decisions in this case.” Never check that box. If you do check that box and file the Joinder, the Petitioner can present final orders and a decree without giving you notice of presentation. Before signing any Joinder form, you should meet with an experienced competent attorney and go over the matter in detail to make sure you understand all of the issues and determine that joining is right for you.
Even If you fully agree with Petitioner’s case and decide that signing the Joinder Form is in your best interests, you should still demand prior notice before any orders are signed by the Court. There is no mandatory form that contains that language, but you can make that request in Section 3. Other (if any), on the Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) form by manually writing: “Respondent’s joinder is conditioned on receiving actual notice of the proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, any and all other orders, and final order or decree for review at least 5 days before presentation to the Court.”
That prior notice is important to make sure that you fully understand the final details of any order you joined. For example, in the Petition for Divorce (Dissolution), which is designated as FL Divorce 201, section 13, on page 7 of the original, there is an option, “I ask the court to divide the personal property fairly (equitably), as explained below.” While the law requires the divorce court to divide all property and debts, it is highly unlikely every item will be listed. It is possible that somewhere between the petition and a final decree, the property division lists may be incomplete, in error or otherwise order a result that is not what you originally understood would occur.
The potential for this type of disconnect exists is other types of family law cases, too. For example, in a Petition to Change a Parenting Plan, Residential Schedule or Custody Order, which is designated as FL Modify 601, section 17, on page 9 of the original, there is an option, “I ask the court to find that I have valid reasons for my Petition (adequate cause), and to approve the following orders (check all that apply).” One of the possible check boxes says, “my proposed Parenting Plan or Residential Schedule.” However, if you joined without seeing the proposed Parenting Plan or Residential Schedule or the Petitioner changed their proposed document without notice to you, that could result in the Court entering an order very different other than what you expected. There are many other examples for other types of family law cases, including non-parental custody and child support modification. A joinder without the right of prior notice and to be present when the final documents are signed can be extremely problematic and leaves open the possibility of deception.
Finally, if have signed a Joinder, but later wish to revoke it, you must take appropriate action before final orders are entered. Unfortunately, there is no mandatory form for joinder revocation. The pattern Agreement to Join Petition (Joinder) form does have language indicating that revocation is intended if the Respondent files and serves “a Response before the court signs final orders.” However, the act of filing a Response may not clearly communicate joinder revocation alone.
I have attached a document which can be used for this and entitled, REVOCATION OF JOINDER AND REQUEST FOR TRIAL SETTING. It is intended to be flexible for tailoring to the specific circumstances of your Washington State Family Court case and must be reviewed for compatibility to any local court rules for the county in which your matter is filed. Know that by revoking a joinder, a trial most likely will be necessary for the Court to rule on all issues of the case. It is best to engage a competent and experienced lawyer to help you prepare and represent you, but especially through trial to final resolution. This paper is not meant as legal advice, rather it should be taken as a general guide.