Losing the ability to see your grandchild or great grandchild can seem unfathomable, especially when you have a close relationship. For those in this situation, Pennsylvania law allows grandparents to sue for custody of their grandchildren for a variety of reasons. However, grandparents have many obstacles to overcome in doing so. First, grandparents have to show they have standing to begin their quest for custody.
Step One: Standing
If a grandparent or even a great-grandparent seeks partial or limited custody of a grandchild or great-grandchild, he/she can do so:
· If the parent of a parent of the child is deceased; or
· where the parents of the child have been separated for a period of at least six months, or have commenced and continued a proceeding to dissolve the marriage; or
· when a child has resided with the grandparents for a period of at least twelve consecutive months, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed by the parents.
In cases for partial physical custody or supervised visitation, grandparents must file an action within six months after the child is removed from their home.
If you are looking for more than partial physical custody of a grandchild, the custody laws are more stringent. The first question is have you, as the grandparent or great-grandparent been acting in loco parentis, meaning have you been acting as the child's parent? If so, you have standing to file a custody action. If you have not been acting in loco parentis, you can still file for primary or sole custody of a grandchild:
· if the relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or by court order; and
· you assume or are willing to assume responsibility of the child; and
· when either the child has been adjudicated dependent through the juvenile court, the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or incapacity, or the child resided with you for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, excluding brief absences, and the child was removed by the parents.
Similarly, you must file within six months after the child has been removed from your care. However, take note that the court will apply a weighted determination in favor of the parents in these cases.
Step Two: Best Interests of the Child
Pennsylvania courts use a "Best Interests of the Child" standard when determining custody for grandparents, parents or others regardless if a grandparent is seeking primary or partial physical custody or visitation with a grandchild. What does this mean? The court may use the following factors:
· parties' parenting skills
· parties' ability to nurture
· parties' willingness to cooperate with the parents and communicate effectively
· parties' ability to give the child stability
· the relationship and bond with other siblings and extended family members and how the proposed custody arrangement could affect those and other positive relationships
· the proximity of the parents to the grandparents in terms of where each lives when determining grandparent custody
· the level of conflict between the parties
This is not an exhaustive list but in our Pittsburgh grandparent custody attorneys' experience, these are some of the main factors to be aware of.
If you are need of an attorney to help you obtain grandparent rights or grandparent custody, please contact the talented and experienced grandparent custody attorneys at McMorrow Law, LLC at 724-940-0100. We offer a free consultation.