One of the most wonderful days of your life may have been the day you first became a grandparent. Grandparenting provides many of the same joys as parenting but with fewer responsibilities, which means you can enjoy time with and spoil your grandchild. Unfortunately, too many grandparents these days do not get to experience that joy.
You may be among the many grandparents today who are caring for their grandchildren because the parents are unable to themselves as a result of addiction or mental illness. On the other hand, you may be estranged from your grandchildren because their parents are going through a painful divorce. No matter your particular circumstances, the looming question on your mind is likely, “What are my rights?”
Grandparent custody rights
Unfortunately, when it comes to grandparent custody and visitation rights, you can expect a battle. Washington courts are not eager to interfere with parental rights, and even if there is substance abuse in the home, you may have to fight to protect your grandchildren. Courts may protect the children by giving you or others physical custody, but this may be only a temporary arrangement, and the parents may retain legal custody of the child.
What may be most frustrating for you is that the courts in your jurisdiction might not place you at the top of the list for potential caregivers if your grandchildren are not safe in their home. You may have the right to seek custody, but you may be placed on a list with others who have the same good intentions. Your relation to the child may have little bearing on the court’s decision about where to place the child.
Grandparent visitation rights
The same frustration may occur if your grandchildren’s parents are breaking up or divorcing. Recent court decisions have placed more power in the hands of fit parents to decide who will and will not have visitation rights to their children. If your grandchildren’s parents are going through an especially contentious breakup, your ability to be with your grandchildren may be impacted.
That is not to say these situations are hopeless. In fact, many courts are willing to assign custody or visitation to grandparents who can demonstrate that maintaining their special bond with their grandchild is in the child’s best interests. Some examples include grandparents who provide for the child’s education, health or the nurturing of the child’s special interests. It is rarely an easy undertaking, but you may feel it is worth it to protect for the well-being of your precious grandchild.