The term visitation, when dealing with child custody, refers to the rights of a non-custodial parent to see their child. It can also refer to temporary custody that has been granted to a non-custodial parent or relative for a certain period.
As is the case in many states, the courts in Washington feel that it is beneficial for both biological parents to have shared custody or visitation of their children. The courts will generally try to provide an equal amount of time with each parent whenever possible.
There are exceptions to this when it is not in the best interests of the child. A parent that does not get even partial custody of their child could still be provided with child visitation rights to help maintain a relationship.
How Does a Parent Request Visitation Rights in Washington?
A biological parent has the right to request visitation rights when they are going through a divorce or a custody case. They can also file a petition for visitation in cases where those circumstances aren’t applicable.
If there are no factors that would cause the court to deny visitation rights to a parent, they will likely be granted. In cases where it would potentially harm the physical, emotional, or mental health of the child, they will not be allowed. In some cases, visitation may be allowed with certain stipulations, such as supervision to ensure the child’s safety. The supervision could be provided by another relative or someone appointed by the court.
Not all parents will have visitation rights, though. If you are a parent and the court has terminated your parental rights, you are not allowed visitation. Additionally, if you are a parent who surrendered your parental rights, you cannot file for visitation.
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What About Non-Parental Visitation Rights in Washington?
One of the unfortunate side effects of divorce is that the children of divorce will sometimes lose contact with relatives. Non-parental family members naturally want to protect their relationship with the child and ensure they still have contact.
Fortunately, it is now possible for some family members to petition for visitation rights in Washington. The laws changed in 2018 to allow certain people to ask a Superior Court to give them visitation rights with a child who is not theirs.
You can file for visitation rights if you are a blood relative, a blood relative’s spouse, stepparent, stepsibling, or a half-sibling. For Native Americans, relatives as defined by the law or the custom of the child’s tribe can also file for visitation rights. If there is no tribal law or custom that determines extended family, any grandparent or aunt, uncle, sibling, brother or sister-in-law, niece, nephew, first or second cousin, or stepparent can file for visitation, as long as they are adults.
What Needs to Be Done as a Non-Parent Who Wants Visitation to Washington?
Getting visitation rights is not as simple as just requesting them. You will need to file a Petition for Visits to start a court case, and you need to provide written statements from people who feel you should have visitation. This will be presented to the judge, who will read the paperwork.
If the judge is likely to grant visits, they will schedule a hearing. If the judge does not feel the rights should be granted, no hearing will be arranged. In those cases where there is a hearing, the parent with the children can argue against the visits. This might occur if the parent feels that visitation with a particular person would not be in the best interests of the children.
The judge will typically assume that the parent’s decision not to want visitation with certain people is in the best interest of the child. The parent does not have to prove that it would be harmful to the child. Instead, the non-parent petitioner is required to provide convincing evidence that not allowing visits would harm the child.
This is difficult to prove. When someone is required to provide clear and convincing evidence, it means that there needs to be proof greater than a preponderance, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It can often be difficult to understand exactly what this legal requirement means for those who are not well-versed in the legal system. If the petitioner doesn’t have enough evidence, the court is unlikely to rule in their favor.
The more evidence the petitioner has showing that visitation would benefit the child, the greater their chances. However, even with evidence, it doesn’t mean visitation will be granted. In some cases, it may not truly be in the child’s best interests.
One of the things a judge will look for when they are determining whether visitation should be granted or not is whether there was an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child before the divorce. This could give them a better understanding of whether visits with the child would harm them or be in their best interest.
What does “ongoing and substantial relationship” mean? According to the law, this defines the relationship between the child and the non-parent that has been formed and kept up through interaction, affection, and mutual interest. To be considered ongoing and substantial, the relationship must have lasted a minimum of two years. In those cases where the child is under two years of age, the judge will look at how involved the non-parent was for at least half of the child’s life. They want to see whether there was an expectation and hope for an ongoing relationship.
Parents who receive a Petition for Visits and who do not want the petitioner to have visitation rights will likely deny the petition. However, when you receive this petition, you need to respond in writing before the deadline listed on the court papers using a Response to Petition for Visits form. This is a long-form with a lot of questions, along with space for adding additional information if it is needed. While you could fill the paperwork out on your own, to avoid making any mistakes, it’s a good idea to go over it with an attorney.
Non-custodial parents will receive a copy of the petition, as well. They can use the same form whether you agree or disagree with the custodial parent’s decision in the matter. You can also file a written statement either in support of or against the petition for visitation.
Why would some parents want to deny visitation to grandparents or other family members? The reasons vary. In some instances, it is because they truly believe that visitation would be more harmful to their children than beneficial. Other times, they may be angry at their in-laws for the transgressions of their former spouse and may be doing it to cause them pain.
What If You Are Denied Visitation Rights as a Non-Parent?
This is something a lot of grandparents, aunts, and other non-parents do not want to hear. The law only allows you to file for non-parent visitation one time. If you are not granted visitation by the court, you can’t simply try again. This is why it is so important for people to get it right the first time.
What Types of Arguments Could Be Used to Help Your Case?
Often, the right arguments and evidence can help to strengthen the case of grandparents and others who want to have visitation rights. If you lived in the same household as the child at one point, it could be argued that you were influential in their life and had a strong relationship with them. If you assumed any parental roles without the expectation of payment, it could also be used as an argument in your favor.
If you developed a parent-like relationship with the child and bonded enough to feel that visitation is warranted, the judge may agree. Of course, it will be dependent on a range of other factors, as well.
What Else Does the Judge Consider in Washington?
Just because someone may feel that they deserve visitation rights, the courts may not agree for any number of reasons. If the non-parent has any history of neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, they will not be granted visitation. The same is true if they have any past criminal history.
Additionally, the parents’ custody agreement may be written to exclude those visitation rights. The judge will look at the reasons behind parental objection to visitation and often side with the parents, who they feel should know what’s best for their children.
Each case is unique, and even those who are granted visitation will need to abide by the court’s decision on the frequency of visits, the amount of visitation granted, and whether it needs to be supervised.
Ultimately, the judge doesn’t care about the feelings of someone petitioning for visitation rights. They only care about what is best for the children involved. If there is any indication that the visitation would be detrimental, they will deny it.
Work with an Attorney in Washington
Remember, for non-parents, there is only one shot at getting visitation rights. You need to be sure you are doing everything correctly from the start if you want to increase your chance of getting these visits.
Whether you are a non-custodial parent who wants to ensure you have visitation with your children, or you are another relative who wants visitation rights, work with an attorney. The laws are complex and trying to get these rights can be difficult on your own. Having the guidance of an experienced family law attorney will help to simplify the process.
Contact the experts at the Aberdeen Law Firm today by calling (425) 441-3055. Set up a consultation regarding visitation rights and other family law matters.
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