Family Law Attorney

Family walking on a hill, silhouetted by a sunset

Serving the Pacific Northwest with Offices in Vancouver & Portland

Families in transition face difficult challenges that often require legal action. Whether it’s divorce, a child custody dispute, or establishing parental rights, the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your future, is to consult an experienced family law attorney.

Human Alchemy, PLLC is a premier family law practice serving clients in the states of Washington and Oregon. Founding attorney Leah Eccles Watson is highly regarded for her knowledge and skills as well for being a compassionate person who understands the challenges that spouses, parents, and children face. When you become our client, we will address your concerns with caring, efficient service and help restore order to your family.

How Our Family Law Attorney Can Help

Regardless of the issues confronting your family, you can expect us to treat you with dignity and respect while adhering to the highest ethical standards. Our legal team routinely handles a wide range of family law issues, including:

Divorce, Annulment, and Legal Separation

The costs and paperwork are almost the same, but when a legal separation is finalized, the marriage still exists. Divorce is appropriate when at least one spouse believes that the marriage is over. Annulment is appropriate for cases of marriage by fraud, or when it has yet been consummated. A legal separation can be a good option for couples pursuing marital counseling while also taking an extended break from one another with a division of finances. This can arise if one spouse wishes to go back to school and it would not make sense to have both spouses on the financial aid forms because of their completely separate finances and households. Legal separation can also be a better alternative to divorce for elderly couples who do not wish to remarry and the cost of health insurance for one spouse could create an untenable alimony payment for the other. Founding attorney Leah Eccles Watson is well-versed in the applicable domestic relations laws and has a proven history of helping her clients achieve successful outcomes in uncontested divorces. When you become our client, you can rest assured that will always stand by you.

Division of Property

Unlike most states, Washington is a community property state for purposes of divorce. This means that all marital or “community” property that is acquired by either spouse during the marriage is deemed to be owned by both spouses. Generally, community property includes the earnings of either spouse (including capital gains, retirement benefits, and other assets) and any property acquired with earnings or community funds during the marriage. Property earned before the marriage, or after the spouses stopped living together for the purpose of ending their relationship, is referred to as “separate” property. All property must be divided in a fair, just, and equitable manner. If left to the courts, that can often look like a 50-50 split of community property.

On the other hand, Oregon is an equitable distribution state, which means that the marital property must be divided in a way that is fair to both parties, but not necessarily a 50-50 split.

Regardless of whether you reside in a community property or an equitable distribution state, the best way to enforce your property rights is to consult the attorneys at Human Alchemy, PLLC.

Spousal Support

Spousal support, also known as alimony and maintenance is sometimes awarded to one spouse after the marriage. Spousal support is discretionary. That means that the court has the option to award support or not. Support can be transitional (for a limited time such as a few years), or permanent (until the former spouse passes away). The court can also order that spousal support will end if the person receiving support remarried (or enters a marriage like relationship).

There is no calculation for spousal support (outside of military regulations). The court weighs many factors when deciding whether to award support. Although there are differences between spousal support determinations in Washington and Oregon, the key factors include:

  • The value of each spouse’s property after the marital assets have been divided.
  • The spouses’ ages and health conditions
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The paying spouse’s ability to meet his or her support obligation
  • The time the receiving spouse might need to obtain training or education to gain employment and become self-sufficient
  • The duration of the marriage

We will help you navigate those factors so that you can feel in control of your case and make informed decisions about the outcome.

Child Custody and Support

Today, the courts do not give preference to either parent regarding child rearing since the laws have been modified to recognize that each parent has equal rights as well as an equal share of responsibility for raising their children. For military families, federal law prohibits a servicemember’s military duties (deployments and temporary duty assignments) from being used against that parent in parenting plan determinations.

In Oregon, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to each parent’s right to be involved in important decisions about the child (e.g. regarding education, medical care,) religion) while physical custody concerns which parent the child will primarily reside with. Although one parent is typically granted primary custody, both parents have a right to make decisions about their children’s health and welfare. Washington tries to avoid the term “custody” and instead refers to decision making and primary and non-residential parents.

In addition, state laws in Washington and Oregon establish guidelines to determine the amount of child support that is necessary, based on factors such as each parent’s income, the number of children in the marriage, the needs of the children and the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Additionally, child support determinations involve other factors such as health insurance coverage for the children, expenses for education and extracurricular activities, as well as additional support for children with special needs. If either parent is receiving State assistance (such as TANF) or the children are on State medical benefits, then the final child support order must be approved by the State. At Human Alchemy, PLLC, we work closely with our clients to develop parenting plans and child support arrangements that are in the best interests of the children.

Modifications

At times, circumstances arise after a divorce — a change in employment status, income, or health issues — that make settlements and court orders unworkable. The family law attorneys at Human Alchemy, PLLC have extensive experience helping clients pursue modifications to support orders and agreements. Our skilled attorney can act as mediators, represent you in a collaborative law modification case, coach you to represent yourself in court, or help you draft the necessary court documents to reflect the changes you have already agreed to.

Military Divorce

Washington and Oregon are home to a number of military installations with families that have unique concerns. It is important to note that a military divorce is more complex than a civilian divorce because it encompasses military regulations as well as state and federal law. At Human Alchemy, we represent military families in divorce cases and related family law matters. Well-versed in the special legal issues associated with the status of military families, we are committed to serving those who proudly serve our country.

You Have Choices

There are many ways to solve a dispute. The process you choose will have a powerful effect on the outcome, cost, and timeframe involved in resolving your problem. Below are some of the different choices you have:

“Kitchen Table”
The parties sit down and solve the problem themselves with no outside assistance. Sometimes they will work together to draft and file court papers, or they use one of the methods below.

Coaching/Unbundled Legal Services
The client in this model acts as a “general contractor” and takes primary responsibility for the case. The lawyer is hired on an “as needed” basis for help filling out forms, resolving specific issues, drafting papers, appearing at a hearing, and so forth. The lawyer doesn’t take over responsibility for managing the case, and the client only pays for the help needed.

Mediation
A single neutral person, who may be a lawyer, a mental health professional, or simply someone with an interest in mediation, acts as the mediator for the parties. The mediator helps the parties reach an agreement, but does not give legal advice, and may or may not prepare the agreement. Few mediators will process the case through the court (state law governs attorney mediators’ ability to file the court papers for the parties). Retaining your own lawyer for independent legal advice during mediation or at least prior to signing the final agreement is generally wise. In mediation, the parties create the solution with the help of the mediator who will facilitate better communication and creative problem-solving.

Arbitration & Private Judges
In some states, it is possible for clients and their lawyers to choose private judges or arbitrators who will be given the power to make certain decisions for the clients as an alternative to taking the case into the public courts. This option can partially reduce the financial costs and delays associated with litigation in the public courts. The financial and emotional costs may still remain high, however, because positions are polarized and the lawyers have no particular commitment to settlement as the preferred goal, and continue to represent the client whether the case settles or goes to trial.

Collaborative Law
Each person retains his or her own trained collaborative lawyer to advise and assist in negotiating an agreement on all issues. All negotiations take place in “four-way” settlement meetings that both clients and both lawyers attend. The lawyers cannot go to court or threaten to go to court. Settlement is the only agenda. If either client goes to court, both collaborative lawyers are disqualified from further participation. Each client has built-in legal advice and advocacy during the negotiations, and each lawyer’s job includes guiding the client toward reasonable resolutions. The legal advice is an integral part of the process, but all the decisions are made by the clients. The lawyers generally prepare and process all the papers required by the court once an agreement is made.

Conventional Representation
Each person hires a lawyer. The lawyer may be good at settling cases, in which case they work toward that goal at the same time that they prepare the case for the possibility of trial. If the lawyers are not particularly good at, or interested in, settling the case all lawyers’ efforts are aimed solely at preparing for trial. Either way, the pacing and objectives of the legal representation tend to be dictated by what happens in court. Cases handled this way generally involve higher legal fees, and take longer to complete, than collaborative law cases or mediated cases.

“War”
One or more parties are motivated primarily by strong emotional (fear, anger, guilt, etc) and as a consequence, the parties take extreme, black and white positions and look to the courts for revenge or validation. Reasonable accommodations are not made. The attorneys often function as “alter egos” for their clients instead of counseling the clients toward sensible solutions. This is the costliest form of dispute resolution, emotionally and financially. It is always destructive for the children involved. Such cases can drag on for many years. Few clients report satisfaction with the outcome of cases handled this way, regardless of who won.

Options Offered by Human Alchemy

We believe in client-centered approaches where the parties retain more control of the process and outcome while being provided the opportunity to make informed decisions.

Collaborative Law Divorce
Collaborative law divorce is based on three principles:

  • A pledge not to go to court
  • An honest exchange of information by both spouses
  • A solution that takes into account the highest priorities of both adults and their children.

The collaborative law process emphasizes respect, dignity, openness and fairness. These core principles are reflected in the key aspects of a collaborative law case:

  • The parties sign a collaborative participation agreement;
  • The parties voluntarily disclose all information which is relevant and material to the matter that must be decided;
  • The parties agree to use good faith efforts in their negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable settlement;
  • Each party must be represented by a lawyer whose representation terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding;
  • The parties may engage mental health and financial professionals whose engagement terminates upon the undertaking of any contested court proceeding; and
  • The parties may jointly engage other experts as needed.

The benefits of a collaborative divorce are virtually endless. A collaborative divorce can help preserve family unity and maintain harmony between all family members, which is especially important if children are involved. The lack of court hearings makes the collaborative model also beneficial for military families with long duty hours and restricted leave use. If you wish to remain friends, co-workers, or business partners with your ex-spouse, collaborative divorce helps to do away with the accusatorial nature of a traditional divorce, thereby allowing both of you to proceed with dignity and respect. Lastly, this type of approach is much less costly than a traditional divorce and avoids unnecessary time spent in court hearings and trials.

Leah Eccles Watson is a highly skilled family law attorney with specialized training and experience in collaborative family law going back to 2005.

Divorce Mediation
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is designed to be a more civil and less expensive way to end a marriage. In this process, the spouses work with a neutral third party, known as a mediator, to reach an agreement on the key issues in the divorce. For the process to be successful, however, the parties must be able to cooperate and negotiate in good faith, otherwise, the divorce will need to be litigated.

Because divorce litigation can be expensive and time-consuming, family law mediation may be a better option. It is worth noting that divorce litigation involves a lengthy discovery period and the related attorneys’ fees and legal costs. On the other hand, divorce mediation generally requires 3 to 6 sessions to reach a resolution. Mediation can also help to minimize the tension that is associated with a litigated divorce.

In short, mediation can establish an atmosphere of empathy and understanding in which the spouses can engage in an open and honest discussion, rather than a bitter dispute. In divorce cases involving minor children, mediation can also create an environment that enables the spouses to continue raising the children and mitigate the emotional harm that is often inevitable during such a difficult transition. Ultimately, the key issues of divorce can be resolved more quickly and amicably when both parties cooperate.

Uncontested Divorce
We offer flat-fee packages for document preparation, filing, and all court appearances. Whether you are local or overseas, an uncontested divorce is perfect for couples who have already resolved the issues and just want their divorce to be official. Unlike online forms, Human Alchemy provides legal advice to you about your agreements. Our attorney ensures that your document address all of the unique aspects of your agreements while also capturing all of the court required details. We also handle all of the filing and presentation of final orders. You gain the peace of mind of knowing that everything is being taken care of without having to deal with parking meters and court security. Uncontested divorce cases can be done with in-person office visits, telephone consultations, video conferencing, or entirely online. We offer military discounts to better support families overseas and deployed servicemembers.

Legal Coaching
Unbundled legal services allow clients to retain complete control of the costs by hiring an attorney à la carte. Human Alchemy offers legal coaching for people without attorneys (pro se). Coaching is used before filing legal action to find out more about a person’s legal rights and responsibilities (what could happen in court). Many people use legal coaching to help them fill out court forms. In mediation, coaching is used to help a person negotiate a good settlement or review the mediation agreement. Coaching is a great way to stay in control of your case and keep the costs down. Coaching is best for simple matters. Coaching is not appropriate for complex cases or trials.

The attorneys at Human Alchemy offer legal coaching for advice only, review of a settlement agreement, review of self-drafted documents, help filling out court forms, limited representation to file documents or attend a hearing. Legal coaching puts the client in the driver’s seat with a skilled navigator available for consultation.

Contact Our Vancouver  Oregon and Washington Family Law Attorney

At Human Alchemy, our legal team is dedicated to helping families resolve their most personal and pressing challenges. When you partner with us, we will take the time to understand your circumstances, explain all your rights, and explore all your options so that you can make the best decisions for yourself, your family and your future. Schedule your free phone consultation today or fill out the contact form.

Human Alchemy, PLLC helps couples with their family law legal needs in the Portland Metro-area, Vancouver, and Clark County.