Washington’s Non-Parent Visitation Rights

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Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Learn how and when certain non-parent relatives can file for non-parent visitation with a child. #3152EN

Please Note:

This discusses a state law covering children who live in Washington State. You do not necessarily need to live in Washington State yourself for this law to apply to you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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

You can file if you are any of these:

  • Any blood relative

  • Any blood relative's spouse

  • Stepparent, stepsister or stepbrother

  • Half-sister or -brother

  • A relative as defined by the law or custom of the child's tribe, if the child is Indian

  • If the child is Indian and no tribal law or custom defines extended family members, any grandparent, adult aunt or uncle, adult sibling, adult brother- or sister-in-law, any adult niece or nephew, any adult first or second cousin, or a stepparent

You cannot file if you are a parent who had a court end or cut off (terminate) your parental rights.

You also cannot file if you are a parent who gave up (you surrendered) your parental rights.

Maybe. The non-parent (Petitioner) must file a form called a Petition starting a court case and written statements from people who agree Petitioner should have visits. The judge will read this paperwork.

The judge will only schedule a hearing if the judge then decides the judge will probably grant the visits. If the judge does not think they'll grant the visits, there will not be a hearing.

At the hearing, the parent who has the children can argue against visits.

Probably. The judge will assume (presume) a parent's decision to deny someone visits with the child 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 easiest way to think of this is that preponderance of the evidence is more like 51% to 49% that the court would rule in your favor. Clear and convincing evidence would have to be higher than 51% likely the court would rule for you. The more evidence you have showing you should have visits with the child, the better your chances.

If you have received a Petition for Visits, and you do not believe the Petitioner should have time with your child, you must respond in writing before the deadline listed in the court papers you got. You can get the form you need to do this, Response to Petition for Visits, #FL Visits 478, at courts.wa.gov/forms.

Example 1: The child's aunt has taken care of the child regularly after school for many years and is very close to the child, who is transgender. The aunt provides a safe space and support for the child to be themself. The child's parents do not support how the child expresses their gender identity. The parents believe the aunt's support is negatively influencing their child. The aunt files a Petition for Visits, explaining her close relationship with the child of many years and citing the evidence about suicide rates for trans children who lack familial support.

Example 2: The father abandoned the mother and child shortly after the child was born. The father has neither paid child support or had contact with mother and child since then. The child's mother became incarcerated when the child was a toddler. The child's adult cousin has raised the child during the mother's incarceration. The child is now 12 years old. The mother has been released from prison and has taken the child back. The cousin wishes to maintain a relationship with the child to ease the child back into mother's custody, since the cousin was the only parent figure the child has known for a decade. The mother does not want the cousin to have any contact with the child because the cousin is part of the father's family, and the mother is still angry with the father for abandoning the family. The cousin files a Petition for Visits. The cousin includes an affidavit from a child psychologist who specializes in family reunification. The affidavit explains the importance of letting the child keep seeing this parent figure during this stage of the child's development.

The person filing the Petition must deliver a copy of the Petition to you as well. You can file a written statement (an affidavit) in support of or against the Petition for visits. You don't have to agree with the child's legal custodian about the Petition. You can use the same form, Response to Petition for Visits, #FL Visits 478, as the parent who has custody.  

The judge could order you to pay the parent's attorney fees, even before there is any hearing. You could also have to pay the parent's legal costs and attorney fees if you end up going to a hearing, and you lose.

In a Petition for Visits case, the judge must first decide if the Petitioner has had an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child, and then decide if denying the Petitioner visits with the child would harm the child and be against the child's best interest.

The law defines this relationship between the non-parent and child as formed and kept up through interaction, companionship, and mutual interest and affection. The non-parent does not expect to be paid for this relationship. The relationship has lasted for at least 2 years.

The judge will look for the non-parent's involvement in the child's life for at least half the child's life, with a shared expectation of and desire for an ongoing relationship.

Only if the non-parent proves both real risk of harm if visits do not happen and that visits are in the child's best interest.

No. The law allows you to only file for non-parent visitation once.

You can read the state law about this at RCW 26.11.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Jan 26, 2023
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