Grandparent’s Rights and Custody in Washington

Grandparent Guardianships in Washington

Washington courts have long recognized that maintaining a relationship with grandparents is generally in the best interest of the children. If grandparents can make a case that they have been (and will continue to be) critical to the healthy and happy development of the grandchild, they have a good chance of successfully petitioning for some court-ordered time with the children (sometimes caused “visitation”).

However, if grandparents want to go a step further and become the primary caregivers of the children, they are asking to become The Guardian of a Minor since January 2021. If you find any blog posts or articles about “Non-Parental Custody” dated before January 2021… ignore them! The rules and procedures have changed dramatically and are continuing to change as the court system discovers practical consequences to the new law.

Most grandparents are in a great position to apply to be the Guardians of a Minor. Their close familial relationship, similar culture, family traditions, and they often have more stable finances and circumstances. But no matter how grand the grandparents are, the threshold question focuses on the parents – not the grandparents. The person asking for the guardianship must declare that they believe that the parents are neither willing nor able to exercise parenting functions. Specifically, the grandparents must tell the court that the parents (sometimes their own children) are unable or unwilling to be a proper parent, including:

  • Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  • Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and daycare, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
  • Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
  • Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  • Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and providing for the financial support of the child.

Swearing that these statements apply to your grandkids’ parents is harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts.

The goal is not to spare the parents’ feelings, or to exercise your “grandparent’s rights;” it is to give the kids a living situation that is in their best interest. If any of the factors listed above apply to your grandchild’s current living situation, and the parents are not willing or able to fix it… you owe it to your grandkids to look into becoming their Guardian.

The 2021 law has greatly expanded the complexity of the process compared to the old “non-parental custody” actions. The average case – with no complications – ends up requiring about 20 individual forms and pleadings (twice the size of the average divorce!)

If you are a grandparent considering Minor Guardianship of your grandchildren, get an attorney trained and experienced in Washington’s 2021 Minor Guardianship law. Even if you want to try it without an attorney, at least consult one to determine the viability of your case before engaging in that massive amount of work; and swearing to things hard to take back. It is a lot of work, and perhaps may require some hurt feelings… but the kids are worth it.

Washington Family Law Attorney Walton Dabney

Attorney Walton L. Dabney

"My pronouns are He/Him, and I am a family lawyer. I am a champion for non-traditional families. I create constructs of agreements to ensure any adult can partner with any other adult(s) to create the living situation they choose and raise their children how they wish – while maintaining legal rights and protections."