Grandchildren are often the light of their grandparents’ lives. When a couple with children faces an acrimonious divorce, or when one of the parents is no longer involved in the children’s lives, the relationship between one parent and the children’s grandparents can become bitter. If a parent prevents a grandparent from seeing the child, does the grandparent have any legal resource? Do you have a right to visit with your grandchildren?

Problems like divorce, drug abuse, or an untimely death often leave families broken, and grandparents may be kept away from the children out of revenge, spite, or carelessness. When a grandparent is unable to see his or her grandchild, the grandparent may have the legal right to pursue visitation time.

In the past, Washington State had some of the broadest grandparental rights laws in the country. However, in the year 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court held that the state’s grandparental visitation law was unconstitutional, and many of the rights grandparents previously enjoyed were dissolved.

Today, the law regarding grandparental visitation rights is less clear. While there is no longer a law which specifically allows grandparents to have visitation rights, there are still other options. For example, a court may grant visitation if the grandparents acted as parents and have a parent-like bond with their grandchildren.

Also, in cases where the children’s parents are unable to care for the children due to substance abuse or incarceration, grandparents can receive court orders granting visitation.

When considering visitation, the court must determine what is in the child’s best interest, the court will consider several factors. First, the court will look at the strength of the child’s relationship with his or her grandparents. Next, the court may consider the relationship the grandparents have with the child’s parents, and the reasons why the parent would not allow visitation. The court will also examine whether or not the person requesting visitation has any disqualifying or negative qualities, like a criminal record or a history of child abuse.

The most important factor, however, is the parents’ decision because the Court presumes that parents make decisions that are in the best interests of their children. If the parents disapprove of grandparent visitation, it may be difficult to convince a judge to go against their wishes. Instead, it is usually easier to resolve a dispute with the parents of the child outside of court by using mediation or another type of dispute resolution method.

At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys offer many services besides divorce. Our Washington family law attorneys provide mediation, arbitration, and other alternative dispute resolution tactics which may help your family come up with a visitation plan that works for everyone.