Grandparents often wonder whether they have any legal rights to see and visit with their grandchildren under Washington law. This is most often an issue when there is a strained relationship between grandparents and their own children, or some sort of family estrangement. Currently, however, Washington law does not provide for grandparents to have court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren, no matter what the circumstances may be.
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Washington’s former grandparent visitation statute. The Court ruled that the statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as it placed a substantial burden on the traditional parent-child relationship. The constitution presumes that a fit parent acts in his or her child’s best interest in determining who should have contact with the child. Given this ruling, it is almost impossible for grandparents to obtain visitation with their grandchildren through the court system. The grandparents would have to prove that not allowing visitation would cause harm to the child. This is an extremely high standard of proof for grandparents in this situation.
Accordingly, the Washington Supreme Court struck down a later version of the Washington grandparent visitation statute following the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Furthermore, in a more recent 2016 decision, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed that a third party, including a grandparent, cannot petition a court for visitation rights in a custody proceeding. As a result, Washington courts simply cannot order grandparent visitation under current Washington law.
In extreme cases, grandparents may have grounds to seek third-party non-parental custody on a temporary or permanent basis. This normally occurs when grandparents have taken on a “de facto” parenting role for their grandchildren. In this situation, grandparents typically must show that there is no parent who is fit to care for the child or that placement with a parent would be detrimental to the child’s growth and development.
Cases involving visitation disputes can be extremely complicated, lengthy, emotional, and stressful. No matter the complexity of the issues in your case, we are here to help. The attorneys of Pacific Northwest Family Law have handled all cases involving all aspects of divorce and family law, including visitation, parenting plans, child custody, paternity support, and grandparents’ visitation rights . Please contact an experienced Washington grandparents visitation attorney at our office if you have any questions about divorce or family law in the state of Washington.