Families are complicated and messy. As such, sometimes when a grandparent feels they should have contact with a grandchild as a legal right despite the objections of one or both of the child’s parents, legal intervention is necessary.

While this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, it is important for grandparents to realize that there may be legal remedies available to them in the event of a dispute over custody or visitations rights to a grandchild.

They key is properly researching which potential remedies are available to you as a grandparent and reaching out to an attorney in Washington State to help you answer any doubts you may have. If you are a grandparent and are trying to ascertain which legal possibilities are available to you regarding custody or visitation of your grandchildren, consider the information below:

An Overview of Grandparent’s Rights & Custody of Minors Laws in Washington State

Washington State has complicated rules when it comes to grandparent’s rights given that parents have strong Constitutional rights to parent their own children without interference from others or the courts.

The courts are mandated to operate under the presumption that parents will make decisions in the best interests of their children even if that includes denying visitation to their child’s grandparents. Where these cases get complex is that grandparents have the sole burden of proving to the court why they should be permitted to have visitation with the grandchild.
Currently, “Visitation with a grandparent shall be presumed to be in the child’s best interests when a significant relationship has been shown to exist.” That said, this can be rebutted by the parent by showing that visitation would harm the child physically, emotionally or mentally.

Parental Rights

When the circumstances are not amiable between grandparents and either one or both of the child’s parents, it can be heart breaking. But that alone is not enough to overcome a parent’s strong Constitutional right to deny a grandparent contact with their child. As such, it is imperative that if a grandparent wishes to seek legally enforceable visitation rights to a grandchild, they really must consult with an experienced family law/custody attorney about the particular facts of the case in order to see which legal theory is best to use as a device to obtain custody or visitation of your grandchildren.

Grandparents as De Facto Parents

There have been instances where grandparents have tried to argue that they are De Facto Parents. The Washington Supreme Court adopted the following test to determine if a grandparent has sufficiently raised a grandchild to be considered a “de facto” parent: (1) The natural or legal parent consented to foster the parent like relationship. (2) The petitioner and the child lived together in the same household. (3) The petitioner assumed obligations of parenthood without expectation of financial compensation. (4) The petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded dependent relationship, parental in nature.

Another recent development is SB 6037, which defines being a De Facto parent as an individual who resides with the child as a member of the household for a significant period of time, engages in the constant care taking of the child, establishes an important bond with the child, completes parental obligations without financial obligation, and can demonstrated that their care is in the best interest of the child.

When Should a Grandparent Consider Filing for Custody of their Grandchildren Who Are Minors?

There are several circumstances when grandparents should consider filing for physical custody of their grandchildren who are minors. If the child’s parents are deceased, it is an easier argument for grandparents to consider filing for custody of their grandchildren who are minors. When the child’s parents have been deemed to be unfit to retain custody is another (and most common) situation where grandparents should consider filing for custody.

There is a strong presumption in the law that parents are fit to raise their own children. It generally takes severe drug abuse, pervasive or significant domestic violence in the household or chronic and significant mental health issues to prove a parent unfit.

Obviously, it is best to consult with an attorney in order to find the best strategy for either proving that child’s parents are unfit or coming up with the appropriate custody arrangement in the aftermath of a court decision deeming the child’s parents to be unfit. Unfortunately, non-parental custody of children is always temporary in nature and if a parent who was deemed unfit by a court of law “rehabilitates” that parent can then come back to regain custody of the child.

When Should I Consult with an Attorney?

Disputes related to the custody rights of grandparents can be quite difficult to prove in court. It is highly recommended for grandparents seeking custody of their grandchildren to reach out to an attorney regarding the particular circumstances of their case. Our team at Envision has many years of experience working with grandparents to establish their rights. As we see many family issues such as paternity questions and domestic violence, we understand how these, and other issues can impact a grandparent’s ability to take custody of their grandchild/ren. We can also help with matters concerning child support.

To speak with one of our experienced grandparents’ rights lawyers, call us today at 1-888-211-7814.

Headshot of Jason Benjamin

About the Author

Jason Benjamin has worked for more than two decades (starting in 1995) immersing himself in the intricacies of family law and particularly child custody cases. To date, he has personally handled more than 1000 cases where child custody is at issue in Tacoma and surrounding cities.

He particularly welcomes families who have emergency child custody, domestic violence or restraining order issues, as he can typically obtain appropriate orders within hours to protect you and the children.