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Do grandparents have custody rights?

If you are the grandparent of a child whose parents’ relationship has soured, you may have some concerns about your ongoing relationship with your grandchild. Luckily, Pennsylvania law does make allowances for grandparents to continue their important role in the child’s life under certain circumstances.

Lawmakers in the Keystone State have outlined conditions for grandparent/grandchild custody situations through the state’s Child Custody Act. The Erie County Bar Association takes a closer look at what these rules mean.

Grandparents who have served in parental roles, even without the benefit of formal adoption, have standing “in loco parentis” to ask for any legal or physical custody. This means they have taken responsibility for the child as a parent would, and housed the child for at least 12 months. If they do not meet these conditions, there is still hope for custody if their relationship was initiated with the agreement of one of the parents or through a court order. Grandparents must also be willing to take responsibility for the child, as well as meet one of the following conditions:

  • The court concludes the child is dependent
  • The child is in significant danger from parental abuse, neglect or drug or alcohol abuse
  • A parent removes the child from the grandparents home after the child has lived there at least 12 months. In this instance, grandparents must file for custody within six months of the child’s removal.

Grandparents may also seek partial physical custody or supervised physical custody. They can pursue visitation in the following circumstances:

  • When the child’s parent is deceased, and the grandparent is the parent of the deceased
  • When the child’s parents are separated at least six months or have begun divorce proceedings
  • When the child lives with the grandparents at least 12 months and is removed by a parent.

In deciding custody issues, state courts take into account the best interests of the child. They understand that a nurturing grandparent/grandchild relationship is beneficial to children.

This article contains information on grandparents’ custody rights which is general in nature. It is not meant to be legal advice.

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