A young girl hugs her grandmother around her neck.

How and When Non-Parent Relatives Can Get Visitation with a Child

Is there a child in your life who is deeply important to you but isn’t your biological or legal offspring? Whether you’re a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or a person who has simply created a trusting relationship with a child upon which they depend, you might be wondering if it’s possible to receive visitation rights. We answer frequently asked questions about Washington’s visitation laws towards non-parent individuals:

I thought non-parents had no right to visits.

  • Washington State law changed in 2018. Now some people can file to ask a Superior Court to give them visitations with a child who is not theirs.

Who can file for non-parent visits?

  • A person who is not the parent of the child may petition for visitation with the child if:
    • They are a relative of the child or a relative of the parent of the child. This can include:
      • A blood relative
      • A blood relative's spouse
      • A Step-parent, step-sister or step-brother
      • A Half-sister or -brother
    • The child is likely to suffer harm or a substantial risk of harm if visitation is denied; and
    • The petitioner has an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child

Are there any specific people who cannot file for non-parent visits?

  • In addition to people who do not qualify as relatives, you do not qualify if you are:
    • A parent who had a court terminate their parental rights.
    • A parent who surrendered their parental rights.

Where do I file for non-parent visitation?

  • Washington must have jurisdiction over the child. This generally means that:
    • Washington is the home state of the child or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state
    • If another court already has jurisdiction over the child pursuant to chapter, a petition for visitation under must be filed with that court.
  • Unless another court already has jurisdiction, a petition for non-parent visitation must be filed in the county where the child primarily resides.

What do I file to show I should get non-parent visitation?

  • You file a petition with the court requesting non-parent visitation
  • You must also file an affidavit that set forth facts supporting your requested order for visitation. The affidavit needs to support your claim that:
    • The child would likely suffer harm or the substantial risk of harm if visitation between you and the child was not granted; and
    • You have an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child that exists or existed before an action by the parent or another person.

What is an "ongoing and substantial relationship with the child"?

  • A person has established an ongoing and substantial relationship with a child if the person and the child have had a relationship formed and sustained through interaction, companionship, and mutuality of interest and affection, without expectation of financial compensation, with substantial continuity for at least two years unless the child is under the age of two years, in which case there must be substantial continuity for at least half of the child's life, and with a shared expectation of and desire for an ongoing relationship.

Do I have you notify anyone that I filed?

  • Yes, you also need to serve notice of the filing to each person having legal custody of, or court-ordered residential time with, the child.
  • A person having legal custody or residential time with the child may file an opposing affidavit.

Will there be a hearing?

  • It depends. If, based on the petition and affidavits, the court finds that it is more likely than not that visitation will be granted, the court will hold a hearing.

Can I get an order for temporary visitation before the hearing?

  • No, the court may not enter any temporary orders to establish, enforce, or modify visitation under this proceeding.

What happens at the hearing?

  • The judge will examine the non-parent's involvement in the child's life, the risk of harm to the child without the non-parent visitation and the best interests of the child, the parents objection or concerns and right to make decisions about visitation of the child.
  • This may involve testimony of the non-parent petitioner, the parents, the child and others.
  • The court presumes (assumes) a parent's decision to deny visits is in the child's best interest. The non-parent must prove by clear and convincing evidence that not allowing visits would cause the child harm.
    • This is harder than the "preponderance of the evidence" in most civil cases.
  • The judge will grant non-parent visits with the child only if the non-parent proves both of these:
    • There is a real risk of harm if visits do not happen.
    • The non-parent visits are in the child's best interest.

What does the judge look at to determine if non-parent visitation is in the child best interests?

The judge can look any factor relevant to the child's best interest, some of which may include:

  • The love, affection, and strength of the current relationship between the child and the non-parent and how the relationship is beneficial to the child.
  • The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the non-parent before visitation was denied, including the role performed by the non-parent and the emotional ties that existed between the child and the non-parent.
  • The relationship between the petitioner and the parent or other persons with custody of the child.
  • The nature and reason for the respondent's objection to granting the petitioner visitation.
  • The effect that granting visitation will have on the relationship between the child and parent the parent or other persons with custody of the child.
  • The good faith of the petitioner and parent or other persons with custody of the child.
  • The child's reasonable preference, if the court considers the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.

If the court grants visitation for the non-parent, can it later be modified or terminated?

  • Yes, a court can modify or terminate an order granting visitation if it finds that there are facts that have arisen since the order or were unknown or were unknown to the court at the time it entered the order, that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred in the circumstances of the child or nonmoving party and that modification or termination of the order is necessary for the best interest of the child.

If you feel that you have a strong case for receiving visitation with a child who is not your own, there is hope. Call our office today to discuss your options at (360) 506-6332.