On Thursday, March 22, 2018, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5598 into law which gives relatives the right to petition a Court for visitation. Under the new law, a non-parent relative may request Court-ordered visitation with a child if:
The relative and child have an ongoing and substantial relationship; and
Denying visitation risks harm to the child.
Relatives include persons related to the child by blood, legal adoption, step and half-siblings and spouses and relatives. Relatives also include extended family members recognized by a Native American child's tribal law and customs.
Under the new law, the Court filing shall be in the county of the child's primary residence. The relative's initial filing must include an affidavit establishing the relationship and facts to support the claim of likely harm to the child if the Court denied the visitation. Once the relative gets past the "threshold" with their initial filing, the new law requires that Court shall hold a full hearing.
At the hearing, the Court must grant visitation if the relative proves both likely harm to the child without visitation, and visitation is in the child's best interest. There are several considerations for the Court, such as:
Weigh a presumption that a fit parent's decision to deny visitation is in the child's best interests;
Evaluate the reasons the parent opposes visitation with the non-parent relative;
Assess a non-exclusive list of best interests factors including (1) love, affection, and strength of the relative's relationship with the child; (2) how the relationship benefits the child; (3) good faith of the parties; (4) physical, emotional, or mental abuse by the relative or anyone residing with the relative; and (5) the child's preference if the Court finds the child old enough to express a preference.
There are many other nuances of the new law, such as assessment of fees upon the non-parent relative if the request is filed in bad faith or without reasonable basis.
Prior to the enactment of this new law, loving grandparents and other relatives could not petition the Court for visitation rights. Their only option was to seek custody, not visitation, through a Non Parental Custody action, or have nothing at all. The new law is a complete game-changer for families where a beneficially involved relative has been harmfully shut out of a child's life.
Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients protect the best interests of children and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, to talk about your situation.
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