Do Grandparents Have Custody Rights?

Washington state law recognizes that grandparents have some rights to see their grandchildren, but these rights are more limited than parental rights.

American courts have long recognized that the Constitution grants parents fundamental rights to make important decisions about the upraising of their children. This can mean that a parent has the right to decide their children should not spend time with their grandparents. However, Washington law recognizes that grandparents, and sometimes others, have rights as well, and courts can take these into account.

To start the process, the grandparents bring a petition to the court for visitation with their grandchildren. The court balances the parent’s wishes against the grandparent’s wishes, but the most important factor is the court’s determination of the best interest of the child.

Washington law presumes that visitation with a grandparent is in the child’s best interests, bus only so long as a court finds that a significant relationship exists between the child and the grandparents. If the court finds there is evidence that visitation would harm the child, it will not grant visitation rights to the grandparents.

The cases where these issues come up tend to be legally and emotionally difficult. Usually, they involve adults who do not get along with each other. (If they did get along, they could probably work out a visitation schedule without making a legal dispute out of it.) Often, one parent is dead, in jail, or otherwise unavailable. It is extremely important that all the adults involved keep the children’s best interests at heart.

Because these cases are so difficult, it’s important to seek out help from an experienced family law attorney.