4431. Legal Jurisdiction and Office Assignment

Approval:  Jennifer Strus, Assistant Secretary

Original Date: 

Revised Date:  July 23, 2017

Policy Review:  July 23, 2021


To support a child’s safety, permanency and well-being, this policy provides direction to caseworkers about determining which county is the correct legal venue in which to file the dependency petition or termination case, and when and how to request a change in jurisdiction.


This policy applies to Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) staff.


RCW 13.34.040  Petition to court to deal with dependent child - Application of federal Indian Child Welfare Act.


  1. When Children’s Administration (CA) files a dependency petition, the case will be assigned to the DCFS office where the child and parent, guardian, or legal custodian reside. If they reside in different counties, priority is given to what is in the child’s best interest, and to the county where the child is most likely to return home.
  2. If the child or parent, guardian or legal custodian does not reside in Washington but the child is located in Washington, contact the Attorney General’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, or Special Assistant Attorney General assigned to your office to discuss legal jurisdiction.  If CA files a dependency petition, the case will be assigned to the DCFS office where the child is located at the time of filing.  
  3. Before requesting that the court transfer legal jurisdiction, all of the following must apply:
    1. The parent or legal custodian with whom reunification is planned has lived in a different county then where the dependency petition was originally filed for a minimum of three consecutive months;
    2. The supervisors and area administrators (AA) in the sending and receiving offices agree to the case transfer; and
    3. The Attorney General’s Office, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney or Special Assistant Attorney General in the sending and receiving counties also agree to the transfer.
  4. If there is agreement as described above and the receiving county’s court accepts legal jurisdiction, the sending supervisor must verify that the case documentation is complete and transfer the case to the receiving supervisor within five business days of receiving the court order to transfer legal jurisdiction. If the receiving county’s court denies the request to transfer jurisdiction, the sending office must retain primary office assignment.
  5. For transfer of legal jurisdiction from state court to tribal court, per ICW Policies and Procedures Chapter 6: Casework Activities for Court Proceedings the CA caseworker will:
    1. Send JU 11.0900 Motion for Order Transferring Jurisdiction to Tribal Court, and Tribal Court’s Order Accepting/Declining Jurisdiction, JU 11.0960 to the tribe for its use for these purposes (a tribe may also use its own tribal court forms). Upon receipt of an order from a tribal court accepting jurisdiction, the state court shall dismiss the child custody proceeding without prejudice. 
    2. Provide the tribe with the case information, and if requested, schedule a transfer case staffing.
  6. Disagreements about office assignment must be resolved at the lowest level possible.If the disagreement remains unresolved, the supervisors and AAs must work with the regional administrators (RAs) or their designees to resolve it.
  7. Disagreements about the legal jurisdiction of an Indian child’s case being in state or tribal court are resolved by the court.  Before seeking a court determination, the assigned caseworker, supervisor, and the tribal Indian Child Welfare Administrator should try to resolve the disagreement. If this is not possible or is unsuccessful, the supervisor will consult with the HQ ICW program manager.
  8. Legal jurisdiction can only be transferred to other Washington counties, and cannot be transferred to counties in other states.
  9. If a dependency petition has been filed, legal jurisdiction of an Indian child’s case can be transferred to any federally recognized tribe in which the child is:
    1. A member, or
    2. Eligible for membership and of which the biological parent is a member.


Contact the Attorney General’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office, or Special Assistant Attorney General assigned to your office about questions regarding legal jurisdiction to file a dependency or termination petition as to a child, or which county the petition may be filed in.