Family Law: Third Party – Grandparent Custody in Washington

There is a specific statutory section governing third party or grandparent custody cases (RCW 26.10). Third party refers to anyone other than the biological parents (grandparents, aunts, uncles, other friends and neighbors), who wants to seek custody of the child.

Third parties may seek custody of minor children where either both parents are unfit, or where the children have been voluntarily placed with the third party by the parents. As with other custody cases, temporary orders may be entered depending upon the circumstances. If the case is not settled, the third party will have to prove their case at trial. They must show that it would be detrimental to place the child with an otherwise fit parent. Along with the entry of a Parenting Plan, the court will also enter an Order of Child Support.

The third party custody statute also contains language permitting the parties to obtain visitation only. However, this statute has been declared unconstitutional by both our State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. Third party visitation rights are no longer valid in Washington.

Third party or grandparent custody cases are usually a rescue action for children in danger. Usually, the grandparent does not want to act as “parent” again, but feels that they have to intervene for the safety and well being of the child. If this is necessary, it is important to know that there is a statute that permits you to step in and protect your grandchild or grandchildren.