Third-party custody and visitation of children in a divorce

All parents want a loving atmosphere for their children. And typically, when there are more people to provide support for the children, the better. “Third-parties” such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and even family friends (“fictive kin”) often take part in caring for a child by babysitting, or sometimes providing long-term care. However, in some situations, a parent might not be fit to parent their children.

In those cases, these third-parties may want to pursue “non-parental custody” of a child. These cases are difficult, as a parent’s right to exercise control over his or her child is protected under the United States Constitution. If a grandparent or other third-party wants to obtain legal custody of a child, then the third-party must prove that a parent is unfit, or that placing the child with the parent would be detrimental to the child’s growth and development.

Also, even if obtaining non-parental custody is not feasible, when the relationship between the parents and the non-parents falls apart, the non-parents can pursue court-ordered visitation. This is referred to as “third-party visitation.”

These types of cases most frequently arise in the form of grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren (although nothing prevents someone who is not a grandparent from seeking visitation). Under Washington law, a third-party may request visitation with a child in the event that the parents are divorced, separated, or in the process of a divorce.

In order to be successful in this request, the third-party must demonstrate  — among other factors — that he or she already has a significant relationship with the child. The trial court will consider a list of other items in determining whether visitation is in the child’s best interest, including the reasons the parents object to visitation, the relationship between the third-party and the parents, the strength of the relationship between the child and the third-party, and the visitation schedule in place between the two parents.

If the third-party proves all of the factors associated with third-party custody, then it is presumed that visitation would be in the child’s best interest. A parent may produce evidence to rebut this presumption, and demonstrate that visitation would endanger the child’s physical or emotional well-being.

A third-party should be cautious about when to bring such an action. For one, there is the potential of forever alienating the parents of the child. Also, if a third-party cannot successfully prove a pre-existing significant relationship with the child, the third-party may be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the parents.

Third-party custody and visitation cases can be complicated and challenging, with the odds in favor of the parents, no matter how wonderful the relationship between the third-parties and children may be. We at The Levey Law Group have extensive experience helping both parents and third-parties in these types of disputes. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to set up a consultation to discuss your case and your options.


How Do You Legally Establish Paternity?

Though a large part of our practice is centered around divorce cases, we also represent clients who have other types of family law matters to address. Paternity is one of them, and there are a number of different circumstances that can call for proof of paternity. Before we get into them, we should point out the fact that paternity is automatically granted to the husband when a married woman has a child. This also applies to couples who are in registered domestic partnerships.

When a child is born outside of wedlock, there is no automatic presumption of paternity. There are legal steps that must be taken to establish it, and the form that must be executed is called a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. Both parents have to sign it, and in many cases, this will be done right after the baby’s birth before the mother and child are discharged from the hospital. It can also be executed at a later date through the Division of Child Support Office.

Other situations can get a bit more complicated. In some cases, a man will refute a contention that he is the father of the child. This is one type of situation that would require the establishment of paternity, and sometimes it works in the reverse. A man may feel as though he is the father of a child, but the mother may contend that he is not.

Under circumstances like these when there is no concurrence, either party, the child in question, or the state can initiate a court proceeding to determine paternity. We should point out the fact that the Division of Child Support can sometimes get involved in these matters. Ultimately, a Petition to Establish Parentage is filed, and if the parties can’t reach a voluntary agreement with regard to paternity, the court has the power to order a DNA test to provide closure.

Contact our office today

Our firm can help if you would like to discuss paternity or any other family law matter with a licensed attorney. You can set up an initial consultation right now if you give us a call at 253-272-9459.

Can a Parenting Plan Be Modified?

One of the most important issues that will be on the table if you are getting divorced as a parent of dependent children will be the matter of child custody. Our family law practice is centered in Tacoma, Washington, and in our state a parenting plan must be presented to the court when a divorce proceeding is underway.

Clearly, it is best if both parents can come to a mutually agreeable arrangement. In many cases, one parent will have physical custody, with the other parent enjoying visitation rights. Legal custody gives a parent the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child. Even if one parent has primary physical custody, both parents can have legal custody. It should be noted that the court will decide on a parenting plan after hearing all the facts if the parents cannot come to an agreement. The court would ultimately make a determination based on the best interests of the child.

Parenting Plan Modification

As we all know, the only constant in life is change. If circumstances shift at some point in time, one of the parents may feel as the though the existing parenting plan is no longer acceptable. Under these circumstances, in the state of Washington, the parent requesting the modification could file a Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan.

The individual who is filing for the modification is considered to be the “moving parent”  in legal parlance. The moving parent must be able to convince the court that things have indeed changed significantly, and the moving parent must also  prove that the modification will serve the interests of the children. Unless the proposed changes are very minimal, the moving parent would be required to attend an adequate cause or threshold hearing to make his or her case for a parenting plan modification.

Schedule a Consultation

In addition to the Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan, other forms must be filed, and you have a much better chance at success if you can proceed with the assistance of a licensed Seattle-Tacoma family law attorney. If you would like to discuss a parenting plan modification or any other matter with us, send us a quick message through our contact page to request an initial consultation.

Divorce Myths

In our society divorce is common, and yet it is a confusing time for both spouses, full of upheaval and turmoil. As a result of divorce being both a complicated and common process, a lot of false information has made its way into common belief about the divorce process and its probable results. Dispelling these myths can be an important way to help spouses deal with the divorce process with more accurate and appropriate expectations.

Myth #1: Mothers always get the children in every custody battle. In any child custody dispute, the court will make a decision for custody and a residential schedule based on the child’s best interest. The determination for best interest is based on very specific factors, and nowhere included in that list is whether a parent is the mother or father. Courts acknowledge the importance of having both parents in the child’s life, and will make the final decision accordingly.

Myth #2: Each spouse will receive his or her own retirement. Washington is a community property state. This means that any assets that are accrued during the marriage are typically (but not necessarily) subject to equal division in a divorce. This includes retirement accounts.

Myth #3: “I don’t need an attorney.” Even in the most amicable divorce, having your own attorney is crucial. Attorneys are trained to deal with the issues that come up in most divorces, and among other things, can help you spot the potential post-divorce issues that should be dealt with before the divorce is final. Making sure your divorce is done completely and properly the first time can help you head off future problems and prevent post-divorce litigation.

Myth #4: “I am entitled to spousal support because my spouse cheated on me.” Washington is a no-fault divorce state. This means that which spouse was responsible for the disintegration of the marriage—and why the marriage collapsed–will not have any bearing on spousal maintenance, nor on other issues such as child support, division of property, and a parenting plan if the spouses have minor children. Washington courts examine particular factors when ruling whether one spouse should receive spousal support, and this list does not include adultery.

Divorce can be a complex process with many moving parts.  To gain clarity about this process, call us today at (253) 272-9459 for an appointment to talk about your case

Social Media After the Final Order

We live in an age of constant communication and information exchange. People use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms to remain connected to family and friends. We share ideas, photos, opinions, and updates on our day-to-day lives. It is no surprise that those involved in family law disputes may turn to social media to vent and receive support. When, though, does this sharing turn into “oversharing,” and can this type of sharing be restricted by the court?

Courts are quite reluctant to restrict an individual’s right to freely express him or herself. Even if your former spouse is taking every opportunity on social media to trash you or air the details of your divorce proceedings, the family court is unlikely to restrict your former spouse’s right to do so. An important exception to this could be if one or both parents are using social media as a way to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the parties’ children.

For example, if your former spouse makes repeated statements about your exceedingly poor parenting abilities on Facebook and tags your child in the post, the court is unlikely to be particularly sympathetic to your former spouse. A court will want to make sure that a child is protected from the attempts of one or either parent from alienating the child from the other parent. To that end, the judge could enter an order restraining that type of statement.

Another example could be if intentional social media posting is interfering with your employment or business. This could come in the form of your former spouse making disruptive or false posts on your business’s Facebook page, done in an attempt to erode your business or even get you fired. With no legitimate purpose behind these types of posts, a court may be more likely to issue an order restricting your former spouse from making attempts to intentionally disrupt your business or your employment.

Statements that are threatening are usually treated differently by courts. If your former spouse is making overt threats on social media, then this matter should be treated seriously. Statements that your former spouse or partner intends to do physical harm to you or your children should be reported to law enforcement officials. Repeated incidents of this type of behavior may become grounds for a restraining order or even harassment charges.

Social media is everywhere today but can create problems even after a divorce is over. We have experience in helping our clients navigate this complicated issue. Contact our team today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and your options