“De Facto” Parentage

An adult who is not a biological or adoptive parent can be found by a court to be a “de facto parent” of a child. Under this court developed doctrine, the following criteria have been adopted by the Washington Supreme Court:

• The natural or legal parent consented to and fostered the parent-like relationship,
• The petitioner and child lived together in the same household,
• The petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of financial compensation, and
• The petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship, parental in nature.

In addition, recognition of a de facto parent is “limited to those adults who have fully and completely undertaken a permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible parental role in the child’s life.” See In re Parentage of LB, 155 Wn.2d 679, 708, 122 P.3d 161 (2005).  Importantly, a de facto parent is not entitled to any parental privileges as a matter of right, but only as it is determined to be in the best interests of the child.

Establishing a parent-child relationship is very important if the partner who is not the child’s legal parent wants to have a relationship protected by and enforceable through a court order such as a parenting plan. If the partner does not adopt the child, and does not meet the requirements of de facto parentage or presumption of parentage, it may be very difficult for the partner to have an ongoing relationship with the child after the partnership is dissolved, if the legal parent does not want such a relationship between his or her child and the other partner. It is very important to get legal advice about your rights and responsibilities with regard to any children as soon as possible.