Third Party Custody
Washington State is unusual in that there is specific case law and statutory law that addresses third party custody. A third party could be a relative like a grandparent, stepparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister. Some cases involve non-biological parties who act as though they are the parents known as “de facto” parents. There are specific requirements to be met to qualify as a de facto parent. Washington State has been all the way to the US Supreme Court on the issue of grandparents rights. Many grandparents are raising their grandchildren because the biological parents are not able to take care of them. Sometimes Child Protective Services gets involved and asks either grandparents or other relatives to file for custody to avoid foster care. These are sad but true cases. The reality is that it is better to have a third party care for these children than to either insist that parent(s) step up to the plate when they are not able or place the children with a stranger.
Third party custody cases can lead to inter-state jurisdiction issues that are complex. If a child is taken by a grandparent from Montana to Washington and the parents live in Montana there may be a dispute as to which state should hear the case. The same issue can arise if the parents live in two different counties and the third party who wants the child lives in a different county altogether, all in the State of Washington.
In some cases parents will consent to temporary guardianship of the children with a third party; cases where the parents are in the military, decide to go through long term treatment to “straighten out,” or for other reasons. This is not the same as a third party custody case.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) could be appointed to decide if it is detrimental to place the child/children with a parent. That GAL will make a recommendation to the court and obtain information from schools, counselors and doctors.
There are several important cases in Washington that deal with third party custody. Your attorney can explain the law and what rights a third party may have to be the custodian of a minor child.