Grandparents of children in Washington may wonder what rights they have to visitation of their grandchildren. This question becomes especially pressing if one of the children’s parents is not in the picture, but the grandparents — the parents of the non-custodial parent — would like to see their grandchildren. This can come up after a divorce or when the parents are otherwise separated. Like so many other legal issues, the issue of grandparents’ rights is complicated.

Washington has a state statute that gives grandparents visitation rights in divorce or separation case, if it is in the best interests of the children. But, this statute was invalidated by the Washington Supreme Court in a case based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that grandparents’ rights are trumped by the fundamental constitutional right of parents to autonomy in their child-rearing decisions. In order for grandparents to get a court to order visitation in many cases, they must show that there would be harm to the child if visitation were not ordered. But, this is usually difficult to do.

Nonetheless, what if a court has already granted visitation rights to grandparents? This is a less difficult situation because people are expected to comply with a lawful court order. If a grandparent finds that their court-ordered visitation rights are not being respected by a parent or other family member, they have the right to petition a court to force compliance with the court order.

This is a very general summary of a very complex area of law. It is meant only to provide a general overview. Grandparents who would like more specific information about their rights and responsibilities have the option of discussing their situation with a family law attorney.