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How two spokane parents lost their son to friends they once trusted
By Wilson Criscione. It wasn't a stranger. It was two people the Simons know well, people they once considered family. My son is missing," Teresa Simon says. It's been nearly three years since the Simons' son, who the Inlander will refer to as Bruce, his middle name, has been home with his biological parents. The year-old lives with people he now considers his real parents, according to court filings.
Their names are Doris Strand and Wayne Janke. Strand and Janke have been part of his life, in one way or another, since the day Bruce was born. But inthey gained custody of him and simultaneously blocked his biological parents from being involved in his life.
They did so by taking advantage of Washington state's relatively loose laws on who can serve as 's parent. They argued that Bruce's biological parents were not fit to raise him. And they argued they were Bruce's "de facto" parents, a legal definition in Washington that grants nonbiological parents equal rights as biological parents. The situation is a new twist on a question that Washington has been trying to answer for two decades: What constitutes a parent in the eyes of the law?
In Janke and Strand's view, granting rights to nonparents is necessary to provide children like Bruce with the home they deserve.
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But for the Simons, it's only been a way to take Bruce and hide him behind a wall of legalese, despite a judge finding that they are indeed "fit" parents. As Teresa recovered from a C-section, it took hours before she could hold her son. Elsewhere in the hospital, family and friends gathered, waiting eagerly to see the baby. Help determine the future of Spokane's parks and natural lands with a simple survey.
Despite their own attorney's words, Spokane health board doubles down to say Clark didn't fire Lutz. At the time, Teresa didn't know Strand very well.
She was Ron's close friend, someone he had met in the late s when he was an assistant manager at Albertsons and Strand was a checker. Teresa thought it a bit strange that Strand was there for so long on the day of her son's birth, but she says she didn't want to make it a big deal.
Teresa, who has bipolar disorder that she manages, says she didn't want to give anyone an excuse to take her son from her. Strand declined to comment for this article, saying she doesn't want to trouble Bruce further.
But in court declarations, she and Wayne Janke, who she lives with, portray themselves as people who began to take care of Bruce as an infant because the Simons didn't care. She describes moments where she felt the Simons ignored their son.
She wanted to take it upon herself to provide him with the care she thought he was missing. The Simons, who both worked and managed rental properties, admit that Strand and Janke helped to take care of Bruce. In the Simons' view, Janke and Strand were something like grandparents for him — in the role they played, not because they're any older than the Simons. They looked after him when the Simons couldn't, bought him gifts and took him skiing and on hunting and camping trips.
Teresa and Ron say they thought the relationship was good for their son. They wanted him to do those things.
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The Simons, feeling Bruce would be better served in the Central Valley School District instead of Spokane Public Schools, used Strand and Janke's address for school records — a move Strand and Janke would later use as evidence in court that he resided there.
Teachers would later report in court that they thought Strand and Janke were Bruce's parents. As years passed, Bruce stayed with Strand and Janke more. Sometimes Teresa picked him up from school, and sometimes Strand did. He did karate with his father, Ron, three nights a week. But he also did Cub Scouts, which Strand or Janke would help with. He'd often stay with them on weekends if they were going skiing. Everything was always with the Simons' permission, they say.
For holidays, they'd all gather together. Christmas was always held in the Simons' household. But there were times when the Simons thought Strand and Janke went too far, especially around when the Simons say Janke inherited a ificant sum of money. The trips became more extravagant — Disneyland, the Bahamas. The gifts became more and more expensive — an all-terrain friend, a jet ski.
And often, the Simons didn't know they were buying things for their son. Megan Juneau, Teresa's daughter and Bruce's older sister, didn't benefit from the same kind of relationship with Strand and Janke. Juneau, now a year-old student at Eastern Washington University, says she didn't know Janke and Strand until her younger brother was born. She says she was confused why Bruce would say for things about her and his parents after being with Strand and Janke. And she says Janke and Strand never were interested in her life like they Spokane with Bruce. InJanke booked a trip to take Bruce to Hawaii with him for spring break.
The Simons say they didn't give permission, and when they found out, they tried to set stricter boundaries on Bruce's time with them. In a court declaration filed inJanke laments Teresa's efforts to restrict the looking and cancel the trip to Hawaii.
But it was Janke and Strand who ended up taking Bruce. That petition was quickly dismissed, and an assessor from the state's Department of Social and Health Services found the abuse allegations unfounded and recommended reunification with the Simons. She later testified that Bruce was "coached" in making the allegations. Instead, on March 31,Janke and Strand filed different petitions that promised for a longer, more drawn-out process. They argued that they were the de facto parents for Bruce, functioning as his real parents for his entire life.
Separately, they argued the Simons were not "fit" parents to take care of Bruce. And the Simons were hit with a restraining order. Bruce went on the Hawaii trip with Janke. He hasn't been home with the Simons since.
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Until recent decades, there had been little reason to question who the legal parents of were. Put simply, the biological mother and father of held legal and constitutional rights as the parents. But it's not always so simple. Does a man who donated sperm to a same-sex couple for artificial insemination deserve parental standing? Should a stepmother who raised from birth in the absence of a biological mom be considered a parent?
The state of Washington, more than perhaps any other state, has been liberal in granting parental rights to nonbiological parents. Inthe U. Supreme Court struck down a Washington state law that the court said violated the rights of parents. The central issue was whether or not grandparents had the right to visit their grandchild if it was in their grandchild's best interest, even if the actual parents objected.
State law allowed for such visitations, but the U. Supreme Court objected. But five years later, the Washington Supreme Court ruled on a different kind of issue. A lesbian couple had a baby together by artificial insemination, but eventually the two split up.
Both were the child's parent, but only one the biological parent. The state Supreme Court ruled that the nonbiological parent was a de facto parent and had the same rights as a birth parent when it comes to visitation. The decision set up the de facto parentage doctrine in Washington state.
And it outlined four factors that courts must consider when determining a de facto parent. A couple like Janke and Strand, for example, could permanently have the same rights as the Simons if: The Simons permitted them to have a parent-like relationship with Bruce; Bruce lived with them; they assumed obligations of parenthood without expecting financial compensation; and if they had an established, bonded, dependent relationship with Bruce.
Since the case deciding the rights of the separated lesbian couple, the de facto doctrine has further evolved.
The courts allowed for de facto status to apply to stepparents even when there were already two fit, legal parents, for example. And it may not matter if the alleged de facto parents are blood-related to the child at all, says Scott Marlow, a Washington attorney who handles parental custody cases. Some states have followed Washington's direction in giving parental rights to nonbiological parents, while others have rejected it.