Third party custody proceedings are often commenced by a relative or party who has assumed the custodial role of a child or children, who believes the child is being abused or neglected by his or her parents or custodians.
The parties to a third party custody proceeding include the petitioner, and as respondents, the child’s parent or parents, and any guardian or custodian of the child. Normally, the child is not a party to the proceedings, but the court may appoint an attorney, usually a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interests.
The Petitioner, usually a non-parent, must state and substantiate that either the child is 1) not in a parent or parent’s custody, or 2) that neither parent is a suitable or fit custodian.
When moving the court for third-party custody, the petitioner(s) must establish adequate cause in order to proceed with a third-party custody action. The petitioners must set forth facts that, if true, will establish that the biological parents are unfit or substantiate actual detriment to the child’s growth and development.
A biological parent is unfit if he/she cannot meet a child’s basic needs. Whether actual detriment to a child’s growth and development will occur if placed with a biological parent is determined on a case by case basis.
Although biological parents have the fundamental liberty interest to the care, custody, and control of their children, this right is not absolute: Children have the right to be free from abuse and neglect which are also important factors in guiding the court’s determination of custody.
Third party custody is guided by RCW 26.10. Third party custody actions are complex and challenging.
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