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Do Grandparents Have Rights to Visit Grandchildren?

Updated: Jun 26, 2023



A grandparent is an important part of a child’s life. Grandparents provide unconditional love and support as part of the extended family. Grandparents want to spend time with their grandchildren, but sometimes that does not happen. There are various reasons why grandparents do not visit with their grandchildren. Many people wonder whether a grandparent has a right to visit a grandchild in Washington. In addition, some grandparents may wish to seek legal custody of their grandchildren in some circumstances. The law provides some guidance on these matters.


Can Grandparents Visit With Their Grandchildren?


Typically, grandparents may visit with their grandchildren as allowed by the child’s parents. With separated parents, a parent may bring the children to the grandparent’s home during their regular parenting time. However, there are some concerns that grandparents may have when their own child does not have visitation or is otherwise unable or unwilling to allow visits with them. Sometimes, the grandchildren’s parents are unmarried, and this can present some unique concerns when it comes to grandparent visitation.


What are the Rights of Grandparent Visitation?


While parents have specific legal rights regarding their children, grandparents do not have direct rights to time or custody of grandchildren. There may be times when a grandparent wants to intervene in the care of a grandchild, particularly in situations where they feel the parent is not providing proper care. There are no federal laws that specifically address grandparent visitation. However, there is a Washington state case with a ruling that broadly allows for grandparent visitation rights in certain situations. This case is the basis for grandparent visitation rights here and across the country.


Washington courts may allow visitation for grandparents in a few situations. The courts may allow grandparent visitation even over the objections of the parent. The Washington case, Troxel v. Granville, is a landmark case that was upheld all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the grandparents wanted visitation with their grandchildren after their son’s death. The children’s mother objected. The courts found that the grandparents were allowed visitation under Washington law at the time because it was in the best interest of the child. However, there have been subsequent changes to Washington law. Generally parents’ wishes around grandparent visitation will prevail unless a grandparent can prove that there will be a detriment to the child.


As a result of the Troxel case and later state statutes, courts generally will determine whether grandparent visitation is allowed on a case-by-case basis, based on what is best for the child. Therefore, a grandparent is able to request visitation, even if it is over the objections of the children’s parents. The court will decide if visitation is appropriate. Under current Washington law, a grandparent (or any other person with a special relationship with a child) may petition only once to obtain the right to visitation. The court may order the grandparent to pay all of the costs associated with both the visitation and the litigation.


Factors in Determining Grandparent Visitation


The courts will review a number of factors to determine whether a grandparent should have visitation with a grandchild. Some of these factors include:


  • The custody arrangement between parents

  • The relationship between the grandparents and grandchild

  • The relationship between the grandparent and their child

  • Whether the parent has any objection to grandparent visitation

  • Any criminal history of the grandparent


The judge will review any other factors that are relevant to making the decision of grandparent visitation. One of the most important factors is the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild. If the grandparent and grandchild have formed a close bond over time, the court may be more inclined to consider the importance of maintaining that relationship.


If a parent has an objection to grandparent visitation, the judge will need to learn more about the reasons behind the objections. If the grandparent has a history of physical or emotional abuse, or drug or alcohol abuse, the judge will need to delve further into the situation before making a decision. The judge may also try to determine how granting grandparent visitation will impact the relationship between grandparents and their children as well as the overall extended family.


Can Grandparents Seek Custody of Grandchildren?


There are situations where a grandparent may wish to become the legal guardian of their grandchild. The courts have been clear that the determination lies in what is in the best interest of the child. A grandparent cannot obtain custody of a grandchild unless the court determines that the parents are unfit. The grandchild’s parents, in some instances, may voluntarily place their child with a grandparent for a period of time in a guardianship or power of attorney arrangement. Although the grandparent is raising their grandchild, it does not mean that the custody arrangement is permanent. The court can determine the placement of the grandchild based on what is in the best interest of the grandchild using clear and convincing evidence..


How Can a Grandparent Request Visitation With a Grandchild?


Grandparents may be upset when their adult child’s marriage ends. Although the grandparents may have been visiting with their grandchildren on a regular basis, that may come to an end. There are many circumstances that could arise in which parents no longer allow visitation with grandparents. For example, the parent could have a falling out with the grandparents and disallow visitation. One parent may be granted sole custody and might not provide for visitation with the other grandparents. One parent could pass away, making visitation with the grandchildren more difficult.

When these types of situations arise, it is helpful for grandparents to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. It is always best to address potential problems when they occur so you can resolve the matter more quickly. Discuss the matter with an experienced grandparents’ rights attorney to determine your available options. You may need to take the matter to family court so you can obtain a legal ruling on grandparent visitation in your case. Remember that every case is different and has a unique set of circumstances, so your options may differ from others who you talk to about grandparent visitation.


The rights and protections afforded to grandparents vary from state to state but may entitle grandparents to visitation or custody in some instances. Grandparents want to spend time with their grandchildren. If, as a grandparent, you are not being allowed to spend time with your grandchildren, there is something you can do about it. Contact us today at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning at (206) 237-5604 to discuss your case.


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