Our State Supreme Court recently held that the de facto parentage relationship does not apply to stepparent/stepchild relationships. Parentage of M.F., Cause # 81043-5 (Wash. Sup. Crt. April 1, 2010).
Our state courts recognized the de facto parent concept in November, 2005, to fill in a gap in the statutory scheme governing child custody. That gap concerned parents who had a child born from artificial insemination and then got into a custody dispute over the child.
The Parenting Act applies to custody disputes between parents. The definition of parent includes a woman who is artificially inseminated and gives birth to the child. However, it doe not include the woman’s partner who intended to raise the child with the mother and created a parent-like bond with the child.
Likewise, the Non-Parental Custody Act applies to custody disputes between a parent and a non-parent. It also does not include the spouse of a woman who gave birth via artificial insemination where the mother and spouse intended to raise the child together as a family.
To fill in this gap between the statutes, the court, in Parentage of L.B.155 Wn.2d 679, 122 P. 3d 161 (2005), established the test for determining de facto parentage:
1. the natural/legal parent consented to and fostered the parent-like relationship;
2. the de facto parent lived with the child in the same household;
3. the de facto parent assumed the obligations of parenthood without expectations of financial gain;
4. the de facto parent and child have a bonded, dependent relationship, parental in nature; and
5. the de facto parent has committed to a permanent, unequivocal and responsible role in the parent’s life.
Here, the court held that the de facto parent test does not apply to step-parents because they are not the constitutional equivalent of parents. Rather, they are a third-party and therefore the non-parental (“Third-Party”) custody act applies.