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Grandparents & Custody: What Are Their Rights In Washington State?

by | Sep 18, 2023 | Articles, Family Law, LAWS & LIFE

Grandparents hold a pivotal place in the lives of their grandchildren. Besides providing love, support, and guidance, grandparents can also play a crucial role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. But what happens when a breakdown of the immediate family circle threatens such relationships? Divorce, separation, the death of one or both parents or parents’ objections sometimes can stand in the way of the relationship between a grandchild and their grandparent. So, what can you as a grandparent do? Does Washington State grant grandparents any rights?
The simple answer is yes. Although the rights of the natural parent outweigh those of non-parents, Washington State law grants grandparents the right to seek custody or visitation with their grandchildren if the circumstances arise. The legal process can be complex; thus, having a family attorney to guide and support you is best.

Can I File For Custody of My Grandchild?


Under the Revised Code of Washington RCW 11.130.185, grandparents can file to obtain custody of their grandchildren by petitioning for guardianship of the child (minor). However, for the guardianship petition to be granted, the non-parental party(grandparent) is required to prove the following:

  • Granting guardianship would be in the children’s best interest instead of the parents.
  • Compelling evidence that neither parent of the child is willing or able to exercise their parental duty under RCW 26.09.004, or the said parents have consented to the guardianship.
  • The child does not have a guardian.
  • The facts and evidence presented in the case will determine whether the grandparents will receive legal custodial rights of the child.

Instances Where Grandparents Can Petition for Legal Custody Rights

When seeking custody or visitation, grandparents should be prepared to provide evidence and documentation to support their case. This includes presenting witnesses, obtaining affidavits, submitting documentation about the children’s living situation, and providing financial information. Here are some instances where grandparents can request custody of their grandchildren:
If the children’s parents are unfit and cannot provide adequate care for the children. It could be related to abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental health issues.
The grandparent can also file for custody based on ‘de facto’ custody if they have lived with the child for at least six months while providing a strong dependent relationship. The grandparent has to show that they have primary care responsibility and are financially responsible for the child.
The court will then evaluate the child’s and grandparents’ relationship and settle for an outcome that serves the child’s well-being. A family lawyer will help properly fill out the necessary paperwork and present a solid case in court while helping protect your rights as a grandparent in Washington State.

How To Obtain Visitation Rights for Grandparents in Washington State

grandparents and grandchildren posing

Even though parents legally have more rights when it comes to their child. Washington State law also recognizes grandparents’ visitation rights and allows grandparents to petition for visitation with their grandchildren as a “Relative” as defined in RCW 26.11.010(2). However, as the non-parental party, the burden of proof lies with the non-parent seeking visitation. You must prove the petition is in the child’s best interest. Additionally, there are more factors the court considers before granting visitation rights to grandparents in Washington State. These include;
1. The Child’s Interest
The grandparents must prove that visitation with them is in the children’s best interest and that they could suffer harm or be at risk when visitation is denied. They should also prove that the visitation would not interfere with the parent-child relationship.
2. Reason for Visitation Objection
The nature of the objection that the parents have to visitation. The court will seek answers to why the custodial parent denied the grandparent visitation. It will be determined whether there is any past criminal history or issues with emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by either grandparent.
3. Relationship Between the Grandparents and Child
The grandparents must have a substantial relationship with the child. If the grandparents have a significant relationship with the grandchildren, they may have a stronger case for custody or visitation. When deciding, the court will consider the length and quality of the relationship and the grandparents’ involvement.
4. Any other factors the court will deem relevant regarding the child’s visitation.

Seeking Grandparents’ Custody or Visitation in Washington State

The process of seeking grandparents’ custody or visitation in Washington State can be long and complicated. Still, it is essential to work with a family law attorney who understands the legal system in Washington State. At The Cowlitz Law Group, PLLC, our family lawyers are well-versed in the child custodial laws and statutes of Washington State. They will ensure you are fully informed and guided through the required legal procedures.
Our family lawyers can help build a compelling case by gathering necessary evidence, structuring persuasive arguments, and highlighting factors indicating the child’s best interests align with granting custody or visitation rights to the grandparents. Moreover, emotions often run high in custody battles, making it challenging for family members to negotiate and communicate effectively.
In addition to guiding the petitioning process, the attorney serves as an objective mediator, ensuring that the process remains civil and that the primary focus stays on the child’s welfare. In the ever-evolving landscape of family law, having an expert advocate can mean the difference between securing a child’s well-being and facing prolonged legal battles without success.

Final Thoughts

Grandparents’ rights in Washington State may be more complicated than initially appear. The grandparents must demonstrate that it is in the children’s best interest to live with them or have visitation. Thus, seeking the advice of an experienced family law attorney to navigate the legal system and protect their rights is crucial. While it may be a long and challenging process, the result could be a happier, more secure life for you and your grandchildren. Schedule a consultation with us, we are here to help.

By: MarkAdmin

By: MarkAdmin

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