In Washington, people who are not the biological parents of a child can be given parental rights under a legal doctrine established by case law over the last decade or so. The "de facto parent" doctrine was first introduced in the context of a same-sex divorce that involved a child. Since then, it has been expanded to anyone who can meet all four prongs of a test laid down by the Washington Supreme Court.
The de facto parent doctrine was first recognized in the 2005 case, In re: the Matter of the Parentage of L.B., minor. This developing area of law came into being when two women in a same-sex couple separated. One was the biological parent of their child, and the other sought parental rights. The Washington Supreme Court held that a nonbiological parent can be a "de facto parent" if four criteria are met: The individual(s) had a parent-like relationship that was permitted by the biological parent(s); the child lived with the individual(s); the individual(s) assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of compensation; and they have an established, bonded relationship with the child.
Recently, in Spokane, the boundaries of the de facto parent doctrine are being tested in a case where one couple has moved to block the parental rights of a child's biological parents. The legal battle in that case is still ongoing. However, as the child nears adulthood, the biological parents fear that the years of legal wrangling may have already harmed their relationship with their son.
Matters of child custody are not always easy, whether in the context of a divorce or otherwise. The advice and assistance of an experienced family law attorney can often help. They can provide guidance and help families to understand what the law expects for the best interests of the child or children involved.
Source: Pacific Northwest Inlander, "How two Spokane parents lost their son to friends they once trusted," Wilson Criscione, March 1, 2018