If you’re a grandparent who is concerned about the health, happiness, or safety of your grandchild, you may have asked yourself if there are legal options that will help you protect your grandchildren.
The answer is yes. In recent years, laws have been changing in ways that grant grandparents an elevated status in custody matters. In the past, grandparents may have been unable to intervene in undesirable family situations. Today, changes in state laws give grandparents well-defined rights that allow them to step in when they see unhealthy or harmful conditions.
Grandparents’ Rights in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Custody and Grandparents’ Visitation Act gives grandparents many legal options to help them keep their grandchildren safe. In the Act, a grandparent’s custody rights are grouped into three areas: primary, partial, and supervised custody.
It’s important to note that each state has different laws and processes, so the details discussed here are specific to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and may differ significantly in other states.
The Act addresses conditions in which primary custody may be granted to a grandparent. Primary custody refers to caring for the child full-time, in your home, with full responsibility for their health, wellness, education, and otherwise assuming all parental duties. Because this is the most dramatic custody assignment and requires a significant disruption in a child’s life, courts use caution when granting of primary custody. Usually, abuse, neglect, addiction, incarceration, or other life-changing circumstances are required to change primary custody arrangements. If a grandparent is or has been primarily caring for a grandchild in the past, they may petition the court for primary or partial custody.
Partial physical custody, sometimes referred to as shared custody, assigns a custody schedule during which grandparents may care for their grandchildren for specified periods of time. Partial physical custody agreements are legally binding schedules. Deviations from the schedule can be remedied with legal action if needed. The primary caregiver retains the primary home for the child, which reduces disruption or change in the child’s life.
Supervised custody allows grandparents to schedule visitation rights without changing physical custody assignments. Supervised custody visits are scheduled and planned. They must be supervised by a court-appointed adult, which may be a parent, an agency or another individual.
Should You Pursue Custody of a Grandchild?
While many grandparents want to spend more time with their grandchildren, not all cases warrant legal action. If you’re wondering whether you should pursue legal action, the team at Going and Plank is here to help you evaluate your circumstances. Take a look at our list of six reasons many grandparents consider pursuing a legal custody agreement.
Reason 1: Your Grandchild is in Danger
Nothing is harder than knowing that your grandchild is in danger of abuse, neglect, physical harm, mental anguish, or other unacceptable circumstances. But your suspicions or claims are not enough to gain custody. You must create a strong case with evidence, and you’ll need legal help. Our team is skilled at researching parent behavior, getting testimonials, and helping you track down the information you need to protect your grandchild. With this information in hand, we can help you pursue primary custody.
Reason 2: Your Grandchild’s Parent or Guardian Suffers From Addiction
It’s a heart-breaking fact that even loving, caring parents fall victim to drug or alcohol abuse and addiction. Even if your grandchild’s parent or guardian is working to end addiction, the process is painful, often requires stays at addiction clinics, and may take years to complete. To save your grandchildren from suffering from the neglect, abuse, and emotional damage inflicted by living with an addict, you can seek primary custody in order to provide a safe and stable home for the ones you love. Going and Plank will help you build a solid legal case
Reason 3: Your Grandchild is Being Neglected
Raising a child requires a parent who is able to tend to the child’s welfare and is responsible and consistent when caring for and supervising a child. If you suspect your grandchild’s parent or guardian is unable or unwilling to provide regular meals, appropriate supervision, emotional support, tend to their educational needs, or consistently provide care, schedule a free phone consultation with our family law team. We’ll ask you questions about your situation and help you understand how to identify and document neglect. And if you decide to pursue your case, we’ll help you prepare for court dates with the kind of information that will ensure your grandchild is protected.
Reason 4: Your Grandchild Needs the Extra Support and Love Your Attention Will Provide
Sometimes a challenging relationship with a parent results in reducing or eliminating your time with your grandchild. If you want to stay connected with your grandchildren to provide emotional care, or to monitor their health and welfare, you may have legal options. Under the Pennsylvania Custody and Grandparents’ Visitation Act, if a parent dies or if the child has resided with a grandparent for 12 consecutive months or more, you may be entitled to court-mandated visitation rights. In these cases, courts will evaluate a child’s emotional and physical well-being, the existing relationship between the child and the grandparents, and, for older children, the child’s preference. Finally, the court will also weigh the impact temporary custody will have, negative or positive, on social and intellectual growth, particularly their education and extracurricular activities. Call the Law Offices of Going and Plank to see if your situation qualifies you for visitation rights.
Reason 5: Your Grandchild is Being Placed Into Foster Care
Sometimes estranged grandparents discover that their grandchild has been placed in foster care. In foster care, the state takes legal custody and caseworkers then make major decisions on behalf of that child. In Pennsylvania, you can petition for “kinship care” so that you become the assigned guardian for your grandchild. This is a bit different than primary custody since the state retains legal custody and pays for the child’s care. If your grandchildren have already been handed over to the legal custody of the state, you still have options. Our family law team can help you seek foster care status and transition your role into legal guardianship if that makes sense for your family.
Reason 6: You Have Raised Your Grandchild as a Parent
If you are assuming or have assumed the primary responsibility of raising a child, the court may grant you primary or temporary custody. The court wants to assure that the child stays connected to the party who has acted as a parent to the child and try to act in the best interest of the child.
Know Your Legal Rights
Pennsylvania law recognizes the role grandparents can play in keeping their grandchildren safe, healthy, and secure. If you’re concerned about the welfare of your grandchild and want to expand your role in their lives, contact us to speak with a grandparents’ rights attorney from Going and Plank.