When biological parents are capable of providing care for their children, grandparents typically do not have any inherent right for custody or visitation in the state of Washington.
Landmark state and federal court decisions give parents substantial Constitutional rights to provide care without interference from others. However, there are steps grandparents can take to protect children subjected to abuse or neglect.
When can custody rights be challenged?
Washington child custody laws are complicated, so grandparents should consult with an experienced family law attorney when petitioning for custody. To be successful, both biological parents generally must be deemed “unfit” due to:
- Abandoning the child
- Alcohol addiction
- Drug abuse
- Mental illness
- Child abuse or neglect
As in all custody matters, courts make decisions based on the best interests of the child.
“De facto” parent designations
A 2005 Washington state Supreme Court ruling created a category in which grandparents or nonbiological parents are, at times, designated “de facto” parents. To be successful, petitioners must have:
- Resided with the child in the same household for a significant period
- Provided consistent care for the child
- Assumed parenting responsibilities without expecting financial compensation
- Established a dependent and parental relationship with the child
- The relationship fostered by another parent
- Proof that the relationship is in the child’s best interests
No guarantees exist for a favorable ruling, and these criteria can be of little use for grandparents when seeking visitation rights.
Protecting the child
While custody and visitation can be an uphill battle for grandparents in Washington, courts have shown a willingness to grant these petitions when it’s for the child’s benefit. Working with a lawyer who understands the complex laws and court procedures is crucial to obtain a favorable outcome.