Third Party Custody (aka Nonparental Custody)
Sometimes parents can’t, or shouldn’t, take care of their own children. In 2012, the Census Bureau found that 4% of all children lived with neither of their parents, or in nonparental custody; the same percentage lived only with their father.
Grandparents specifically, and related family members more generally, usually rally to fill the need so that an infant or young child is cared for. However, nonparents who take on such responsibilities often don’t realize that they have no “rights” unless and until they obtain a court order through the Nonparental Custody statute, RCW 26.10 (also called Third Party Custody). The most important family law case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in recent history, Troxel v. Glanville, was related to a challenge to Washington State’s Nonparental Custody statute.
Often the reason that parents can’t care for their children is that they have engaged in child abuse, or suffer from mental illness or from substance abuse that renders them potentially dangerous to the safety of their own children. Such children can be forcibly removed from their homes by Child Protective Services (CPS) and become “dependents” (fka “wards of the state”) pursuant to RCW 13.34. In such situations, relatives of the children are supposed to get preference when CPS or the court looks at possible homes the children could stay in while efforts are made to rehabilitate the parents. RCW 13.34.130.
From 1996 to 2006 Bruce Pruitt-Hamm prosecuted cases for Child Protective Services and worked with many relatives who wanted to take custody of the children before the court. He knows “the system” and can help relatives who want to help children whose parents, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t fulfill their parenting duties. Give us a call at 206-327-9335.