When parents struggle to meet the emotional and financial needs of their children, grandparents often step in to provide extra support or even act as primary caregivers. The AARP reports that about 3 million older Americans are raising their grandchildren. 

Unfortunately, often grandparents take on caregiving responsibilities because parents are unable to do so themselves. In Washington, grandparents may be able to gain custody of grandchildren if the parents cannot provide a safe and supportive environment. 

How can grandparents gain custody?

To gain custody, grandparents must petition the court and notify both biological parents of their request. If both parents agree to the decision, the court often grants nonparental custody if grandparents do not have a problematic criminal or Child Protective Services record and it is in the best interest of the child/children. 

If one or both parents refuse to give up custody, grandparents must prove in court that the parents are either unfit caregivers or that leaving a child/children in their parents’ care would cause significant harm to their emotional and/or physical growth and development. 

What does nonparental custody include?

Grandparents who have custody of children are their primary caregivers and have the right to make decisions about education, health care and other issues related to their upbringing. The custody order may also include a visitation schedule or require biological parents to make support payments. 

What if the court does not approve a custody request?

Family law is often both emotionally and legally complicated. Even if the court initially rejects a petition for custody, grandparents may appeal that decision, especially if they have concerns about a child’s safety and wellbeing.