Grandparents often play a vital role in children’s lives, and may step in when a parent is unable to care for their children on their own. In Pennsylvania, courts always consider the best interests of a child when determining custody. It is unfortunate but due to the opioid epidemic, more grandparents have assumed the role of caregiver for their grandchildren. In 2018, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that addresses several issues surrounding child custody, including and expansion of who can file for custody of a child and clarification of the circumstances in which grandparents can seek custody of a grandchild. As with all other child custody matters, courts look to determine “the best interests of the child”.
Grandparents’ Custody Rights
The new law works to resolve the issues raised by a 2016 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that limited the ability of grandparents to seek custody of their grandchildren. It also opens the door for other third parties such as friends, neighbors, or other relatives to file for legal custody. Whether you are a grandparent or another party who is seeking custody of a child, it is essential to seek the counsel experienced family law attorneys who understand how the system works.
Grandparents may file for custody of a child under the following circumstances:
- Upon the death of one or both parents
- Grandparents can seek full or partial custody or visitation if a custody action has already been initiated by either parent, unless both parents believe that contact with the grandparent is not in the best interest of the child.
- The child began their relationship with the grandparents with the consent of the parents or through a court order
- If a grandparent has been acting as a child’s parent, also known as “in loco parentis,” they can file for custody of the child. Under the new law, other third parties who have been acting in loco parentis may file as well.
- Grandparents can also seek custody if there are issues of neglect, abuse, or drug and alcohol dependency.
- If a child has lived with a grandparent for 12 months or more
- When a child’s biological parents cannot be located
If you currently have custody or are seeking custody of a child, it is also a good idea to consult wills and trusts lawyers or estate planning attorneys for advice about how to protect the child’s interests should something happen to you.
The Court’s Role in Determining Custody
Although keeping children with their biological parents is considered ideal, if this is not possible a court will try to determine which type of arrangement will best serve the child. Courts consider the following factors before awarding visitation or custody:
- The child’s emotional and physical well-being
- The past and current relationship between the child and their grandparents
- If the child is older, the court will ask what their preference is
- The potential influence on a child’s social and intellectual growth
Legal issues surrounding custody and visitation can be complex. If you are a grandparent interested in filing for legal custody of a child, the experienced attorneys at our law firm in West Chester can help.