There are no federal guidelines that pertain to the rights you have as grandparents to see your grandchildren or stay a part of their lives. Usually, the parents have full control. If you have had a strong relationship before the divorce, you have the option to fight for an agreement to be arranged allowing you to visit with your grandchildren as you did before.
But what if one or both of the parents object? There still may be ways for you to see your grandchildren, but they might be limited. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney is the most effective way to start this process. By knowing the details of the divorce and understanding your relationship with the grandchildren, your attorney will be likely be able to get the best results possible.
There was a specific case in Washington State that made it to the Supreme Court and dealt with this exact issue. Washington’s grandparents visitation statute is broad and may allow you visitation, but only if this act is in the child’s best interests. Your family law attorney will fully explain this, but the court’s prime directive is to do what is best for the health and well-being of the child.
When this case was finally ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court, it upheld the specific grandparent’s right to visitation. The visitation time was less than what the grandparents wanted, but more than the parent requested. Part of the ruling also stated that the parent(s) objections still had “extra weight,” and the extent of visitation would be determined by the depth of the relationship between the child and the grandparents.
What Are Some of the Factors the Washington Courts will Consider?
The underlying factor in a decision regarding visitation is still that it must be in the child’s best interests.
Some of the factors that will come into play are:
- The grandparent’s relationship with the child’s parents or parent
- The exact nature of the objection that the parents have to visitation
- The parent’s custody arrangement
- Has the child had a strong bond with the grandparents previously?
- Will the grandparent’s visitation affect the parent-child relationship?
- Is there any past criminal history or issues with emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by either grandparent?
- Any and all other factors that the court may deem relevant to the child’s well-being regarding the visitation
Although there may not be strict legal guidelines to this question, the grandparent may have had a positive and integral part in the mental, physical, and emotional health of the child in question. This will not be overlooked by the court, even if the parent’s wishes have precedent, the court will always try to do what’s best for the child.
These cases can be detailed and complex and an attorney will be the best resource to help you achieve what is best for your grandchild.
What if I, as a Grandparent, Want Custody of My Grandchild?
There are cases in which, for various reasons, the grandparents want custody of their grandchildren. Needless to say, these cases are even more complicated and a grandparents rights attorney has to present a solid and pertinent case to the courts.
The Washington State court has determined a test that can be used to prove that the grandparents have acted as “de facto” parents to the child and that this should remain in place.
Some of the facets they look at are:
- The natural or legal parent(s) have consented to this parent-like relationship of the grandparents
- The petitioner and the child (or children) have lived in the same household
- The grandparents assumed all the obligations of parenthood without the expectation of financial help or compensation
- The grandparents have been in a caring and parental role for the child for a long time and have developed a strong dependent relationship that may be detrimental to the child if severed
Every aspect of the relationship between the grandparents and the child is taken into account. The paramount guideline is that any decision made regarding custody provides for the most positive development and well-being of the child.
What Else Should I Know if I Want Visitation?
As a grandparent you certainly have rights in the eyes of the Washington State court. Recall, however, that in my cases, the natural parent’s rights outweigh yours. If there are no negative factors that pertain to the parents, you have to prove to the court that your visitation rights enhance the well-being and upbringing of the child.
There are however always new laws put in place that affects these cases. For example, in 2018 a new law came about that allows for grandparents and other relatives by blood or marriage (including step-family members) the potential chance to gain visitation rights with a child who is not their biological child. The non-parent still must prove that they have a strong nurturing relationship with the child and that the child will suffer emotional or other harm if the relationship is severed.
This new law is complex and does not eliminate or weaken the parent’s to parent their child. A relationship ending is already emotionally painful enough for most children and the loss of grandparents adds to it. An experienced lawyer will help guide you through this legal process and work tirelessly to find an outcome that is best for you and your grandchild.