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.
Non-parent custody is complex and the non-parents have a high burden of proof because non-parents do not have a constitutionally protected right to have custody of someone else's child (this is entirely different from adoption, of course). Washington courts have made it clear that the non-parents must prove that a parent is currently "unfit" or that there is a risk of "actual detriment" to the child if the non-parents are not able to obtain custody. Examples of current unfitness and actual detriment are case specific, but it must be enough to outweigh a parent's due process and constitutional rights.
It is important to understand that non-parent custody does not terminate a parent's rights; it is usually a temporary and uncertain right awarded to a non-parent custodian, and when/if a parent is deemed fit, the parent may petition the court to regain custody.
Rachel R. Bender is an experienced trial attorney and has represented both non-parents and parents in non-parent custody litigation. Contact Bender Law PLLC for a free consultation today.