What are my custodial rights as a grandparent?

We get a lot of questions from grandparents who have concerns about how their grandchildren are being raised. Whether they have legitimate safety concerns, or they just feel they would be a better support system than the parent, grandparents want to know what legal recourse they have to step in and be a stable, loving, and supportive influence in their grandchildren's lives. The answer, as with most custody situations, is "it depends".

For a grandparent to make a custody complaint asking for primary physical custody of their grandchild, they have to have "standing", or a legitimate reason why they should receive custody. A grandparent is eligible to file a custody complaint if:

  1. They have stood "in loco parentis" to the child, or have taken up the duties and responsibilities of the parent without a court order. If the parents have been unable to care for the child and the grandparents have provided for the child in their stead, the grandparents have a right to pursue legal custody.

  2. Their relationship with the child began with the parent's consent or under a court order. If the parent is seeking treatment for addiction issues or incarcerated and leaves the child in the grandparents' care, the grandparents have a right to pursue custody.

  3. The grandparent is willing to assume responsibility for the grandchild, AND:

  • The parents are unwilling or unable to care for the child due to negligence, child endangerment, addiction issues, incarceration, parental abuse, or death.

  • The grandparent has an existing relationship with the child.

One thing to keep in mind is that the law in Pennsylvania states that, in any sort of custody dispute, unless there is a clear and convincing reason not to, custody should be awarded to the child's parents. The burden of proof is on the concerned grandparent in this case to prove why both parents are unable to care for the child. In other words, it probably doesn't make sense to pursue full legal custody of a grandchild just because the parent doesn't allow the grandparent to see the grandchild as much as they'd like.

Grandparents do have a legal option to pursue visitation, or partial physical custody, of their grandchildren, but they have to prove it is in the child's best interests and that it won't interfere with the child's relationship with their parent. In these cases, it is usually best to explore every non-legal option before suing the parent in court.

If you are a grandparent who has questions about what legal rights you may have in your case, please contact us today. We offer a free 30-minute consultation where Attorney Sean Ruppert can listen to your background and advise about how likely you are to get custody.