A Seattle Visitation Attorney Can Help with Visitation for Grandparents and Other Relatives
While it is well settled in Washington that a third party can petition the court for custody of a child who is not living with a parent or when the parents are found to be unfit, for many years the same has not been with the case with petitions for visitation. Your Seattle visitation attorney can help you decide if you qualify to request court ordered visitation.
Constitutional Issues Impacting Visitation For Grandparents And Other Relatives
As experienced Seattle visitation attorneys knows all too well, around 1998 – 2000 there were several court cases that found Washington’s laws on third party visitation to be unconstitutional. This made it basically impossible in most situations for a non-parent such as a grandparent to bring any kind of legal action seeking visitation with a child. Only recently has the Washington legislature put in place new laws again providing for third party visitation actions, specifically designed to avoid the constitutional issues that had created problems for so many years.
New Relative Visitation Laws
Washington’s new laws are found in RCW 26.11. Under the new nonparental child visitation chapter, in order to be granted such visitation, you must:
- Have an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child, and
- Be a relative of the child, and
- Be able to show that the child is likely to suffer harm if visitation is denied.
- Be able to show that visitation is in the best interest of the child.
Washington Restrictions in Who Can Seek Relative Visitation
There are significant restrictions, however, that you will need to specifically discuss with an experienced Seattle visitation attorney. The substantial relationship must have been ongoing for at least two years, or half of the life of the child for a child under two. The relationship must also have been without expectation of financial compensation.
That second provision is one to take particular note of. It means that, for instance, a grandparent who has been paid to sit the grandchildren is not able to bring a visitation action! If you think that you may sometime in the future need to file for third party visitation rights, you need to make sure you are NOT accepting any compensation from the parents (or anyone else such as the state). While sitting the child may establish the needed relationship, it must not be paid.
Presumption In Favor Of Parents Denying Relative Visitation
There is also a presumption in favor of a parental decision to deny visitation, so this resumption must be specifically rebutted by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation is in the best interest of the child. Washington’s RCW 26.11.040 lists a number of factors for the court to consider in weighing this burden of proof is met. These factors include:
- The relationship between the relative and the child.
- The relationship between the parents and the child.
- The relationship between the relative and the parents.
- The parents’ reasons for objecting to visitation.
- The child’s preferences (if the child is old enough).
Earning Custody Rather than Visitation
As mentioned earlier, a third party such as a grandparent in Washington also can seek custody of a child rather than just visitation. This is an option you should also discuss with your Seattle visitation attorney.
Interestingly, one does not have to be a relative to bring a custody action. You do have to show that either the child is not in the physical custody of at least one parent, OR that neither parent is a suitable custodian (unfit to parent). The court also needs to find that the placement with the third party is in the child’s best interest.
Call Seattle Divorce Services Today To Discuss Relative’s Visitation Rights
If you are seeking visitation or custody rights of a child who is not your own, discuss custody and visitation with our experienced Seattle visitation attorneys. To schedule an appointment, we can be reached through the form on our website, or you can call us at 206-784-3049.