Strong Advocacy for Grandparents in Child Custody Cases in Pennsylvania
Helping ensure children and grandparents stay connected
Most child custody cases focus on which parent has legal or physical custody of the minor children. Decisions need to be made about who will take care of the children on a daily basis. Who will make sure the children are fed, have clothes to wear, get to school, do their homework, and what friends they spend time with? Decisions need to be made about the child’s health, which school the child attends, and their religious upbringing.
Often, the parents are so focused on their lives that they neglect to consider the love the grandparents of the children provide. Children need grandparents to help when the parents are at work. Children need grandparents to give them unconditional love. Children need grandparents to learn their family history. Grandparents need to spend time with their grandchildren to keep them young at heart and because of the love they give and get in return.
At the Law Office of Jason R. Carpenter, we advise grandparents that they have legal rights regarding their grandchildren – but, generally, only if the grandparent’s child (the parent of the grandchild) is unable to act as the grandchild’s parent. In some cases, such as when a parent is deceased or a parent is unfit, a grandparent can seek physical or legal custody. When both parents are able to fulfill their role as parents, we work to ensure the parents (even though they’re divorced or separated) place the needs of the grandchildren first – by ensuring that all grandparents spend time with their grandchildren.
When can grandparents file for custody of their grandchildren?
Under Pennsylvania law, a grandparent has standing to seek custody of a grandchild in the following circumstances:
- The grandparent is in “loco parentis” to the grandchild. This means they’ve been acting as the parent of the child.
- The grandparent is not in “loco parentis” but the following conditions apply:
- The grandparent’s relationship with the grandchild started due to a court order or with the consent of the parent (the child of the grandparent).
- The grandparent “assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child.”
- One of the following conditions applies:
- The parent (child of the grandparent) is a dependent child – normally when the parent is under 18 and is dependent on his/her grandparent.
- The grandchild is “substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity.”
- The grandchild – for at least 12 months in a row, has lived with the grandparent (not counting temporary absences) – and is then removed from the grandparent’s home by the parents – provided the grandparent files for custody within 6 months of the removal.
The grandparent, if these conditions are met, can petition for physical and/or legal custody. The family court judge will consider, among other factors:
- How long the grandparent has been involved in the grandchild’s life
- The “nature, quality, and length of the involvement”
The court will consider other issues such as the role of the parent (the child of the grandparent) in the child’s life.
What happens if a grandparent wants custody and the other parent wants custody?
The grandparent’s claim for custody involves the two parents of the child. Even when the child of the grandparent is deceased or is unfit (due to substance abuse, juvenile status, or other factors), the court must also consider the rights of the other parent.
In deciding custody, the family court decides which people have primary or physical custody. The family court decides whether each type of custody should be shared (joint) or whether one person should have sole physical and/or sole legal custody.
One person may be awarded primary physical custody (the child lives with that person most of the time). Another parent may be awarded partial physical custody (the child lives with that person less than a majority of the time). Partial physical custody is also known as visitation.
How are custody disputes resolved?
A lot depends on the circumstances. If both parents are deceased or unable to act as parents, then courts will strongly consider the rights of either set of grandparents to have custody.
If there is a dispute between a parent and the parents of another parent (grandparents - then that dispute must be resolved either through:
- An agreement
- Court litigation process.
Family court judges prefer, as much as possible, that an agreement be reached so the children/grandchildren aren’t caught in the middle.
If both parents share custody of their children, they should work to ensure that the grandchild visits with both sets of grandparents – after the parents are divorced or separated.
Grandparents do not have a legal right to visitation – unless they have standing to file a claim for custody – as set forth under the law as discussed above.
Practical issues in grandparent custody cases
There are many practical issues grandparents must consider in deciding if they wish to seek custody – when a parent(s) is/are deceased or unable to act as parents.
Children do need loving people in their life who are willing to assume the responsibility of raising them. In tragic or unfortunate cases, many grandparents are willing to step in to ensure their grandchildren are raised by family members.
There are some factors grandparents should consider though:
In many cases, if a parent has substance abuse or other problems, the grandparents usually want the parent to recover well-enough to resume the role of parent.
Grandparents need to consider their health, financial ability, and their general ability to raise the grandchildren. Being a full-time parent is different than being a grandparent.
At the Law Office of Jason R. Carpenter, our Harrisburg family lawyers advocate for grandparents as well as parents – when the need arises. We explain the rights grandparents have and what factors determine custody of grandchildren. To learn more about your rights as a grandparent, call our experienced family lawyers at: (717) 537-0928 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.
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