By: McKinley Irvin
When couples with children separate, the most likely outcome is for the children to live most of their time with one parent and have liberal visitation with the other parent. A Seattle divorce attorney will explain that this right to visitation is based at least in part on a theory in constitutional law that creates the rule that parents have a fundamental right to parent their children. In any event, without showing that one parent is unfit, each parent shall enjoy residential time with the children after a dissolution of marriage. Seattle divorce attorneys specialize in child custody and residency issues with all its subtleties. However, what if one of the parties is not a biological parent at all? Can a Seattle divorce attorney help, for example, a step-parent who has not adopted his step child but has acted as a parent to that child all his life? Or, may a Seattle divorce attorney help a significant relative, like a grandparent, who has helped raise a child but now after a divorce or death of a parent, has been cut off from the child by the residential parent? The answer is "that depends". Until 1999, Washington State family law by statute, provided for visitation between a third party and a child despite the wishes of the legal parent, if such an arrangement was in the child's best interest. However, the Washington State Supreme Court, affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, ruled that these statutes allowed an unconstitutional interference on a legal parent's right to determine what is best for his or her child, and this sent Seattle divorce attorneys scrambling. Because ordering third party visitation against a fit parent's wishes is tantamount to overcoming that parent's fundamental right, overcoming this right requires a showing that harm to the child will result unless visitation is ordered. This radically changed the law of third party visitation cases and has become a headache for Seattle divorce attorneys. While our State's lawmakers and Seattle divorce attorneys continue to argue about rewriting the laws, the Washington State Supreme Court has announced a cause of action for visitation between a non-parent and a child under somewhat strict circumstances, under a doctrine of a de facto parent. According to the court, a party may petition for de facto parent status if that party has a significant parent-like relationship with the child and, (1) the natural or legal parent agreed to and fostered the parent-like relationship, (2) the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household, (3) the petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of financial compensation, and (4) the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship, parental in nature. To read more about this area of law see McKinley Irvin, Seattle Divorce Attorneys, Publications If you think you might have a case under these factors, consult a Seattle divorce attorney and discuss your case . Be sure to explain all the facts to your Seattle divorce attorney, as this action is quite narrow. Also, your Seattle divorce attorney may advise that you try negotiation before court action, as such an case may be challenging. The Seattle family law attorneys at McKinley Irvin are highly experienced in all areas of Seattle family law. They handle each visitation case with empathy and reason and are some of the most respected Seattle divorce attorneys in Washington.
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