Seattle Family Law Blog

 On June 26, 2011, the Seattle Times ran a front-page article detailing the simultaneous personal tragedy of the late forensic psychologist Dr. Stuart Greenberg and the systematic failure of the judicial system that propelled his career for over a decade.   Dr. Greenberg grew to become a pre-eminent forensic psychologist in King County.  The court appointed him to evaluate approximately 2,000 parenting evaluations.   The newspaper article detailed how the judicial system failed to recognize the taint that attached to Greenberg’s evaluations.  Three years after his death and the discovery of his misconduct, neither the courts nor the legislature have enacted any measures to redress the systematic failure….

The things normally done in a parenting evaluation consist of interviews of the parents and children; observations of the parent/child relationship; interviews of collateral contacts, such as teachers, relatives, counselors; review of relevant documents; psychological or substance abuse testing, if indicated.  Finally, the evaluator writes up a report that documents the process and supports a parenting opinion that is offered as a conclusion.

The parenting evaluation should be a structured process rather than a freewheeling essay. That being said, you would be surprised that lots of parenting evaluations have little structure.  Indeed, they often have little logic.  By that I mean that the recommendations rarely flow logically from the facts presented.  And when you get down to the facts supporting the conclusions, it’s easy to notice that the facts are cherry-picked by the conclusion.  In other words, the parenting evaluation usually turns into a argument that leaves out important facts in order to make the conclusion seem more reasonable….

After setting forth the standard parenting plan, the evaluator should state any reasons, if any, for deviating from it.  Specific reasons may include a parent’s work schedule, distance between households, lack of a parental bond, alcoholism or substance abuse, or domestic violence.   In any event, there would be a clearly stated cause-and-effect linkage.  The parents and the court could then focus on validating the recommendation.  Some of the reasons for a deviation are of a transitory nature, and the recommendation should then give an opinion as to the measures necessary to change the deviation into the normative parenting plan.

Obviously, the parent’s interest is more important than that of the parenting evaluator.  The parent has to live with the result for a long time and it defines his or her relationship with their child.  For these reasons, I find these cases to be the most challenging and rewarding ones I come across as a family law attorney.

Under Washington law, a person other than a parent (a non-parent) may petition for custody of a child “by filing a petition seeking custody of the child in the county where the child is permanently resident or where the child is found, but only if the child is not in the physical custody of one of its parents or if the petitioner alleges that neither parent is a suitable custodian.”


As a divorce attorney practicing in King County, I am often trying to negotiate alimony (called “spousal maintenance” in Washington).  According to the Internal Revenue Service, former spouses pay around $9 billion in alimony each year.  In Washington there is no uniform standard for determining the proper duration of a maintenance award.  The amounts and duration of maintenance awards are usually decided by judges, using a list of factors….

dv photoAdvance Signs of Trouble:

  • You find out your partner had a violent relationship with a former partner.
  • Your partner stalks you — at work, online, with GPS in your car.
  • Your partner has been physically violent in the past, to people or animals.