When It Takes a Village: Third-Party Custody in Washington State

A child’s ideal caregiver is their parent. A secure and loving relationship with Mom and/or Dad keeps them safe and healthy, transmits important social and cultural values, and provides them with the resources and skills they need to grow into happy and well-adjusted adults. 

Unfortunately, circumstances can arise that make it impossible for parents to give their children the love and attention they need to thrive. If this happens and the children have their growth and development opportunities impacted as a result, Washington has a law that enables relatives or other caring adults to step in.

Third-Party Custody Explained

Also known as non-parent custody, third party-custody refers to children being cared for by someone other than their parents. While these third parties are generally relatives, they can also be stepparents, family friends, neighbors, or any other adult with the child’s best interests at heart.

These caring parties may obtain custody if both parents are unfit or have voluntarily placed the child with them (a short-term situation also known as a custodial placement agreement). In some cases, Child Protective Services may get involved with a difficult family situation and asks grandparents or other relatives to obtain custody to keep a child out of foster care. 

At present, an estimated 35,000 children in Washington state live with their grandparents or other relatives.

How Can You Seek Third-Party Custody?

If your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other relatives are not being properly cared for by their parents, you can engage a Washington family law attorney to help you file for custody. For your petition to succeed, you will have to prove the following:

  • The parent or parents are unfit. For example, if your son and his wife are abusing alcohol or drugs and leaving the children unattended, leaving your grandchildren in their custody could be dangerous for their wellbeing.
  • Staying with an otherwise fit parent would have a negative impact on the child’s development. If your sister is living with a husband who is verbally and physically abusive to her, it results in a toxic home environment for the children.

There is a significant amount of paperwork involved, including but not limited to the petition, summons, motion for temporary orders, proposed residential schedule for parent visits, and background checks from Child Protective Services and the Washington State Patrol.

The court will have to find that there is adequate cause for you to receive custody. If it does, it will proceed to issue a final order.

Contact a Washington Third-Party Custody Attorney

At Bliss Law Group, we believe that raising a grandchild, sibling, niece, nephew or other young relative is a beautiful and selfless act. We can help you decide whether third-party custody is in the best interest of the child, prepare and file your petition for custody, and support you in court. If you’ve never raised children before or it’s been awhile, we can also point you toward support groups that can help you do the best job possible. We’re here to listen, so please call 253-844-4412.

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