Non-parent (third-party) custody cases involve disputes over the custody of a child between the biological parent(s) and a non-parent (third party). Typically, the non-parent asking for custody is a grandparent or other close relative.
These situations are complex, and non-parents have a high burden of proof—they do not have a constitutionally protected right to have custody of someone else’s child (aside from instances of adoption). Washington courts have made it clear that the non-parents must prove a parent is currently “unfit” or there is a risk of “actual detriment” to the child if the non-parents are unable to obtain custody. Examples are case-specific, but must be compelling enough for a court to override a parent’s due process and constitutional rights.
Non-parent custody does not terminate a parent’s rights; it is usually a temporary right awarded to a non-parent custodian. If and when a parent is deemed fit, the parent may petition the court to regain custody.
Rachel Bender, the owner of Bender Law, is highly experienced at representing both non-parents and parents in this type of custody litigation.