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Washington Grandparents' Rights

Category of De Facto Parents Of Little Help to Grandparents

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washington state grandparents rights

Famed for the Space Needle, Washington has a different kind of fame among grandparent advocates.

Photo © State of Washington

Washington State currently has no operational statute for grandparent visitation. The Washington statute is still on the books, but it was found unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court in 2005. Efforts to pass statutes governing grandparent visitation failed in 2006.

It was the Washington State's visitation law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as "breathtakingly broad" in the 2000 landmark case of Troxel v. Granville, casting doubt on the visitation laws of almost every state. In Washington State, the law was amended, but found unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court in 2005 in the case In re Parentage of C.A.M.A. The court stated that the statute "unconstitutionally infringes on a fit parent's right to control visitation."

In another 2005 case, In re Parentage of L.B., the Washington Supreme Court created the category of "de facto" parents. To show that one is a de facto parent requires the following:

  • The natural or legal parent consented to and fostered the parent-like relationship.
  • The petitioner and the child lived together in the same household.
  • The petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of financial compensation.
  • 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.
The category of "de facto parents" has been of little use to grandparents seeking visitation rights, even though many grandparents may meet the criteria. Several factors have combined to reduce the impact of the ruling:
  • Because the case of "In re Parentage of L.B." involved a lesbian couple, some judges are reluctant to apply the principle of "de facto parents" to grandparents seeking visitation.
  • The courts clearly want a legislative solution, as indicated by the Washington Supreme Court's statement: "As such, based on our holdings in Smith and C.A.M.A., until the legislature amends the relevant statutes, there exists no statutory right to third  party visitation in Washington."

Another case, In re Parentage of M.F., is widely considered to have weakened the concept of de facto parents. The person suing for de facto status was a stepfather. The court rejected his petition, basically saying that the child in question already had two parents, a ruling which will certainly hurt many Washington State grandparents suing for visitation rights.

As long as this situation in Washington remains unresolved, grandparents seeking visitation rights are in a position that some characterize as extremely difficult, while others say the difficulties are practically insurmountable.

See Revised Code of Washington 26.09.240.

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