How does Washington law deal with the enforcement of foreign family law judgments?

Understanding Enforcement of Foreign Family Law Judgments in Washington State

The State of Washington, like many jurisdictions, has a complex legal framework for dealing with the enforcement of foreign family law judgments. These judgments can range from divorce decrees to child custody orders and support obligations. The enforcement process is governed by state law, federal statutes, and international treaties to ensure that the rights and protections afforded by such judgments are recognized across borders.

In Washington, the enforcement of foreign family law judgments is primarily addressed under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), both of which have been adopted in some form by all 50 states. These Acts provide mechanisms for registering, recognizing, and enforcing family law orders from other jurisdictions.

Registration and Recognition of Foreign Family Law Judgments

To enforce a foreign family law judgment in Washington, the judgment must first be registered with the appropriate state court. The registration process involves submitting a certified copy of the foreign judgment, along with a sworn translation if it is not in English. Once registered, the foreign judgment is treated as a Washington judgment and is subject to the same procedures and enforcement measures as domestic judgments.

However, before a foreign judgment can be enforced, it must be recognized by the Washington court. Recognition may be challenged on various grounds including lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, lack of notice to the parties involved, or if the judgment was obtained through fraud. The court will also ensure that the foreign court had proper jurisdiction and that the judgment does not contravene public policy principles.

Enforcement Measures for Foreign Family Law Judgments

Once a foreign family law judgment is recognized, various enforcement measures are available. For child support or alimony orders, this might include income withholding orders, garnishments, or property liens. In cases involving child custody or visitation orders, courts may utilize law enforcement assistance to ensure compliance.

It is important to note that while Washington courts strive to respect and enforce foreign family law judgments, there are limitations. In certain cases where international treaties apply, such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the processes for recognition and enforcement may differ.

Historical References and Examples

One notable example is the case of In re Marriage of Rideout, where a Washington court was tasked with determining whether to enforce a Canadian custody order. The court used UCCJEA provisions to ascertain that it had jurisdiction and ultimately enforced the Canadian order.

In another instance, Washington courts have had to address issues of comity – that is, giving effect to laws and judgments of another jurisdiction out of mutual respect – in cases like Kulko v. Superior Court of California, where the U.S. Supreme Court discussed personal jurisdiction in family law matters with international elements.


The enforcement of foreign family law judgments in Washington is a structured process designed to uphold legal obligations while respecting international jurisprudence. By adhering to established Acts like the UCCJEA and UIFSA, as well as considering international treaties when appropriate, Washington courts demonstrate their commitment to ensuring justice across borders within the parameters of state and federal law.