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Originally published Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: A pathway for grandparents to visit their grandchildren

House Bill 1506 opens a narrow, carefully considered legal pathway to allow grandparents to petition to see their grandchildren.

Seattle Times Editorial

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PARENTS have the supreme duty and privilege to raise their children.

But child rearing is a complex, exhausting job. Grandparents can be an emotional asset and relief valve, a source of wisdom and candy and unconditional love.

Yet since 2005, grandparents in Washington have held no legal right to see their grandchildren if parents object.

That should change this year. The Legislature should pass House Bill 1506 and reopen a narrow, legal pathway for grandparents to petition for visitation.

Two previous laws, which gave judges wide latitude to require third-party visitation, were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and state Supreme Court.

As former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a 2000 ruling striking down part of our state’s law, “Washington’s breathtakingly broad statute effectively permits a court to disregard and overturn any decision by a fit custodial parent ... .”

Based on those rulings, state law flipped from an overly broad infringement on parents’ rights to an overly restrictive barrier between grandparent and grandchild.

HB 1506, sponsored by Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, narrowly reopens access by allowing third parties to petition in court for visitation with a child.

It realigns Washington law with a vast majority of states. In an emotional Legislative hearing this week, Pedersen said Washington was one of a handful without a law allowing third-party petitions for visitation.

HB 1506 continues to defer to parents, putting the burden on petitioners to prove an “ongoing and substantial relationship” of at least a year with the child, and requiring a finding that a child would “likely suffer harm” if visitation is not granted.

And it requires the petitioner to pay the parents’ legal bills. This guards against — as opponents suggested during the Legislative hearing — ad hoc, unwarranted petitions that could bankrupt parents. It also unfortunately puts an added burden on worthy petitions from poorer grandparents.

Family dynamics are complex and emotionally tangled. There are myriad reasons why a parent would deny a grandparent’s access to a grandchild — some valid, some spiteful.

Allowing judges to weigh well-argued petitions, with a child’s best interests at heart, is a thoughtful approach.

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