Custody and visitation rights for grandparents in Pennsylvania
The bond between grandparents and grandchildren is important and special. In most cases, the survival of this relationship depends on the consent of the children’s parents.
Sometimes – perhaps because of estrangement, illness or divorce – parents may limit grandparents’ ability to spend time with their children. When this happens, grandparents may be able to go to court and seek protection of their grandparents’ rights, thereby obtaining child custody or visitation with their grandchildren.
Partial custody and visitation
Orders for partial custody and visitation are available for grandparents who want to spend more time with their grandchildren, but whose ability to do so is limited by the grandchildren’s legal custodian. Partial custody orders allow grandparents to spend time with their grandchildren outside of the custodian’s presence, while visitation orders allow visits under the supervision of the legal custodian.
Orders for partial custody and visitation are only available under the following limited circumstances:
· When one of the birth parents has died
· When the parents have been divorced, or when they have been separated for at least six months (even if they never married)
· When children have resided with their grandparents for at least 12 months, but were then removed from the grandparents’ home by a parent
Pennsylvania law gives parents wide latitude to determine how their children will be raised. As such, courts will not intervene in most cases where children are living with both parents and the parents have decided to limit grandparents’ involvement in the children’s lives.
Like other child custody and visitation matters, grandparents’ rights cases are decided based on a “best interests of the child” standard. This is important for grandparents to remember – the courts are not going to be looking at what would make the grandparents the happiest. Instead, they are going to try and work out an arrangement that promotes the children’s physical, emotional, spiritual and moral wellness. Courts will try to do this in a way that interferes with the parent-child relationship as little as possible.
Full legal and physical custody
Grandparents will only be granted full legal and physical custody of their grandchildren in very limited circumstances. The court must believe that granting full custody would be in the grandchildren’s best interest and that the grandparents have genuine care and concern for the children. Further, the grandparents must already be serving as parents or there must be evidence to show that the children’s parents are unfit because of abuse, neglect, addiction or mental illness.
Asserting grandparents’ rights
No one wants to go to court and disrupt their family’s lives. However, when children’s health and welfare are at issue, it certainly makes sense for grandparents to fight for their rights. If you are concerned about your grandchildren’s safety or have been denied the opportunity to spend time with them, talk to a Pennsylvania family law attorney who can review your case and help you understand your options for moving forward.