In many families, grandparents play an important and special role. Grandparents often raise the children and provide for their support and maintenance. Fortunately, Pennsylvania custody laws do provide a legal process for grandparents to obtain custody of a grandchild so long as a number of legal requirements are met.
DOES A GRANDPARENT HAVE CUSTODY RIGHTS?
The term “standing” is a legal term that confers upon an individual the right to bring a legal cause of action in court. The Pennsylvania custody laws expressly permit grandparents to pursue physical custody or legal custody of a grandchild. This means that grandparents may have “standing” to pursue custody rights. Specifically, standing is conferred upon a grandparent under one of the following circumstances:
- A grandparent whose relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under court order.
- A grandparent who assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- A grandparent when one of the following conditions are met: 1) the child has been determined to be a dependent child under the juvenile laws; 2) the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or 3) the child has for at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent and is removed from the home by the parents, in which case the action must be filed within 6 months after the removal of the child from the home.
DOES A GRANDPARENT HAVE VISITATION RIGHTS?
In addition to the right to pursue physical or legal custody as described above, grandparents and great-grandparents havestanding to file an action for partial or supervised physical custody (visitation) in the following situations:
- Where a birth parent has died;
- Where the parents been separated for at least 6 months or have commenced divorce proceedings; or
- When the child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent or great-grandparent and is removed from the home by the parents. In this scenario, an action must be filed by the grandparent within 6 months after the removal of the child from the home.
HOW DOES A GRANDPARENT OBTAIN CUSTODY?
When a grandparent has standing to pursue custody rights, the grandparent must then convince a court to award custody to the grandparent. If there is an action between a parent of the child and a grandparent, there is a presumption that custody shall be awarded to the parent; however, the presumption may be overcome with sufficient evidence. The judge will look to the following factors:
- The amount of personal contact between the child and the grandparent;
- Whether the award would of custody would interfere with the relationship between the child and either parent; and
- Whether the award is in the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child can be proven in a number of ways but generally speaking, the grandparent must show that awarding custody to the grandparent meets a child’s emotional and physical needs.
HOW DOES A GRANDPARENT OBTAIN VISITATION?
The factors that a court will consider in awarding a grandparent visitation include whether the award would interfere with any parent-child relationship and whether the award would be in the best interests of the child.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LAWYER?
As with any legal proceeding, the role of the lawyer is to advise the client whether he or she has standing to pursue a claim and then the lawyer must review the specific circumstances to determine whether the evidence to be presented at trial will be enough to win. After the lawyer and the client agree that the grandparent can pursue a claim and that the evidence is sufficient to make a strong case, the lawyer must then prepare the case and develop the evidence to persuade the judge to award custody or visitation to the grandparent. The Martin Law Firm’s family law attorneys can provide you with a free case evaluation. Contact us today at 215-687-4053.