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What is de facto parentage, and how do Washington courts decide?

Parenting a child is a challenge and a gift, but it is not always a biological parent who provides the care a child needs.

Stepping in to care for a child when you are not the biological parent can be a significant responsibility. Whether it happens out of a change in circumstances or an extreme situation, a de facto parent can have a critical role in a child’s life.

Here’s what you should know about how courts decide de facto parentage, including a recent case where Washington courts had to determine de facto parentage.

Determining defacto parentage

The court must decide whether a de facto parentage exists and make a separate determination of the child’s best interest for a custody and scheduling order. The primary concern for Washington courts is the care the child will receive with the de facto parent. Although you may have a history of providing care, the court will look at all seven factors of the test for deciding parentage, including:

  • Whether the child resided with you as a regular member of your household for a significant period
  • Whether you engaged in consistent caretaking of the child
  • Whether you had complete and permanent responsibilities without expectation of compensation
  • Whether you claimed the child as your own
  • Whether you created and maintained a parental relationship with the child
  • Whether another parent of the child supported your relationship with the child
  • Whether continuation of your parental relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest

The court will consider these factors carefully and look for you to demonstrate that you have fulfilled these requirements. Once de facto parentage is decided, the court can determine custody matters, such as residential time and decision-making. The factors involved in these decisions include:

  • Most importantly, the stability, strength and nature of the parent-child relationship
  • Any agreements made between parties
  • Whether each parent has taken on responsibility for the daily needs of the child
  • The emotional and physical needs of the child
  • Relationships between the child and other adults or siblings in addition to their involvement in activities and school
  • The wishes of the parents and child (if they are mature enough to express preferences)
  • The work schedules of each parent

A recent case

After a long battle through Washington courts, a recent ruling regarding de facto parentage took the opportunity to apply the factors from the statute. In the case, after the court awarded de facto parentage, the child’s biological father appealed, stating that it was not in the child’s best interest to appoint a de facto parent.

As the court looked at the factors in the statute and the evidence from both the de facto parent and the biological parent, the court determined that the decision would stand because of the care the child received from the de facto parent.