Grandparents understandably treasure their grandchildren and will do anything to keep them from harm. If the people who are legally responsible for your grandchild are either failing in their duties or are incapable of performing them, it may be necessary to take legal action.
In Washington State, grandparents have certain rights. Even though they are somewhat limited, a grandparent can seek guardianship of grandchildren under certain circumstances.
Abuse or Neglect? Contact the Authorities
Grandparents typically seek guardianship of grandchildren because they suspect that there is abuse or neglect occurring in the home. If this is your situation and you believe that your grandchildren are in immediate danger, filing paperwork should come second.
The first thing you should do is contact the authorities to ensure the safety and security of the children. Then you can request that the children be temporarily placed in your care if the authorities remove them from their biological parents.
Guardianship vs. Custody
The two terms might appear as synonyms, but they have very different legal definitions. Guardianship laws vary by state but generally refer to placing children with a third party who will act in their best interests. This generally happens when parents are unable or unwilling to take on this role, and a guardian can continue in their capacity until a child reaches adulthood.
Custody might refer to physical custody, legal custody, or both. Physical custody references where the child lives and legal custody gives a person the right to make decisions. Some grandparents will have physical custody of children to assist the parents with care but not legal custody. Most parents have legal custody of their children unless this is removed by the courts.
Reasons to Grant Guardianship to Grandparents
The courts generally believe that both parents have a legal right and obligation to care for their children and make decisions about major issues. When a grandparent wants to assume those rights, there must be a valid reason.
Child custody laws vary by state, but most courts will give preference to one of the biological parents before granting custody to a third party. A grandparent may be able to receive guardianship when both parents are still alive if:
- Both parents are found to be unfit;
- Both parents give up their rights to the child;
- There is documented substance abuse in the home;
- There is documented neglect or abuse in the home;
- One parent is unfit and the other doesn’t want custody.
If a parent becomes incapacitated or dies, the court’s first choice will be to place the children with the other biological parent. Even in these circumstances, another blood relative might step forward and ask for guardianship. It is also possible that the courts will want to see an established relationship between the children and their grandparents before granting such a request.
Seeking Guardianship if Both Parents are Deceased
If both parents are deceased, the grandparents may have a strong case for guardianship of the children. As with other cases, the court will review the requests of all close blood relatives that are willing to take custody of the children and determine what is in their best interests.
How to Seek Guardianship of Grandchildren
Seeking guardianship of grandchildren is not something to be taken lightly. If the biological parents are still living, you will also need to consider your relationship with them and possible repercussions should your request be denied.
If the situation is truly dire, you may be able to convince the parents to sign over temporary custody voluntarily. If this isn’t an option, your family law attorney can file a Petition for Non-Parental Custody to begin the process of requesting guardianship. You will need to present significant evidence to support your claims, but the courts do approve these requests when warranted.
If you are concerned for the welfare and well-being of your grandchildren, it might be time to examine your legal rights. Your first step should be to consult with an experienced Washington family law attorney who can thoroughly investigate your situation and advise you of your rights.