Over the last few decades, the parameters of the word “family” have evolved to keep up with the progress we’ve made in society. Blended families are now much more common and same-sex marriage is now legal across the nation. An unsettled question until recently has been the legal status of a de facto parent — a person who isn’t biologically related to a child but regularly acts as a parent and provides for the child’s basic needs.
For years, de facto parents lacked a process that would allow them to establish legal parental rights over a child. Consequently, many such individuals weren’t able to enjoy the full rights and benefits of being parents, despite having shouldered substantial responsibilities for their child’s well-being.
Washington State has taken the lead in reforming this inequity. In 2019, our state became the first to adopt the Uniform Parentage Act, which sets out a clear path for adjudicating claims of de facto parentage. Under the law, legal parental rights can be obtained if the claimant files a verified petition in the family court and submits evidence showing that:
- They resided with the child as a regular member of the child’s household for a significant period.
- They engaged in the consistent caretaking of the child.
- They took on the responsibilities of a full and permanent parent of the child, without expecting compensation. (Paid foster parents are ineligible.)
- They treated the child as a biological child and presented themselves as being in a parent-child relationship.
- They established a bonded and dependent parent-child relationship.
- Another parent of the child fostered or supported the relationship.
- Continuing the relationship is in the child’s best interest.
The Uniform Parentage Act is intended in part to resolve questions of parentage expediently so that related family law issues like child custody, child support and visitation can be decided quickly and fairly. A claim of de facto parentage can be contested by the child’s natural or adoptive parent, by a legal guardian or by any other interested party. If facts are in dispute, the court may hold an expedited hearing. Since the law was recently adopted, this new procedure is largely untested. Talking with an experienced family law attorney is advisable.
If you are interested in making a claim of de facto parentage, reach out to a lawyer at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. Our Tacoma attorneys would be happy to sit down with you, hear about your family situation and explain all your legal options. To schedule a consultation, please call 253-272-5653 or contact us online.