The issue of grandparents visitation rights is back before the legislature in Olympia. A bill now in the Senate would allow a non-custodial relative to petition a court for child visitation.
For ten years, Vicki Morgan and her husband raised their grandson because of a broken home. They took him on vacation, paid extra medical bills and sent him to private school. Then, suddenly, he was gone. Their daughter took him away. Morgan claims her daughter moved to a secret location with their grandson, whom they’d essentially raised since he was 1-year-old.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a little boy who has had all the benefits of a pair of loving grandparents and then imagine having them all taken away in the blink of an eye,” Morgan told members of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections.
The visitation measure ESHB 1934 has passed the House. Right now, parents must be found unfit before a court can award third-party visitation.
Janet Sophie thinks a court order might be the only way she’ll ever seen her grandchildren again.
“I was teaching my granddaughter how to sew, we were right in the middle of making a quilt when all of a sudden they can no longer talk to us or see us,” she said. “They don’t know why, we don’t know why.”
Critics of court-ordered visitation, like Max Brook argue that it’s best that family conflicts be worked out within the family, not in the legal system.
“I believe that this is mostly tugging on the heart-strings and I believe that these relationships cannot be legislated.”
Washington is among the few states with no visitation law. It was struck down by the state Supreme Court as an infringement on parental rights.
Advocates insist that a new visitation law represents a last resort for desperate family members.
“We absolutely do not want to take away the parents rights, whatsoever, absolutely not,” testified Bob Rudolph, head of Grandparents Rights of Washington State.
Besides proving an “ongoing, substantial relationship” with the child, the person seeking visitation has to convince a judge of at least “a substantial risk of harm” if visitation is denied.