All parents want is a loving atmosphere for their children, and typically when there are more people to provide support for the child, the better. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even family friends often take part in caring for a child by babysitting or sometimes long-term care. In some situations, when the relationships between the parents and the non-parents fall apart, the non-parents may want 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. Under Washington law, a grandparent may request visitation with a grandchild in the event that the parents are divorced, separated, or in the process of a divorce. In order to be successful in this request, a grandparent must demonstrate first that he or she already has a “significant relationship” with the child. If this is successfully proven, it is then presumed that visitation would be in the child’s best interest. A parent may produce evidence to rebut this presumption, and to demonstrate that visitation would endanger the child’s physical or emotional well-being.
A grandparent should be cautious about when to bring such an action. In addition to the potential of forever alienating the parents of the child, if a grandparent cannot successfully prove a pre-existing significant relationship with the child, the grandparent may be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the parents. The trial court may consider a list of factors when determining if the visitation is in the child’s best interest, including the reasons the parents object to grandparent visitation, the relationship between the grandparent and the parents, the strength of the relationship between the child and the grandparent, and the visitation schedule in place between the two parents.
There are cases where a grandparent or other third-party may want to request not just visitation, but 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 win 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 a detriment to the child. In such a case, the third-party will have to show an actual detriment to the child, not just a speculative detriment. In other words, the third-party will have to prove that the child has already sustained some sort of injury.
Grandparent and third-party custody or visitation cases are difficult 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 have extensive experience helping both parents and third-parties in these types of disputes. Call us today at (253) 272-9459 to discuss your case and your options.