This year, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a new law that expands the definition of who may request child custody in addition to clarifying the situations when a grandparent may obtain custody of a grandchild. Grandparents have been taking care of grandchildren at an increased rate in recent years, sadly, due to the opioid epidemic and other unfortunate causes. If you are a grandparent in Pennsylvania seeking custody of a grandchild, an experienced family law attorney in your area may be able to help.
Pennsylvania Grandparent Custody Laws
Prior to the new law, grandparent custody had been limited in Pennsylvania. The state supreme court determined that a grandparent could not seek custody of a grandchild just because the parents had been separated for at least six months. Under the new law, a grandparent can seek child visitation or custody of a grandchild when a custody action has been initiated by either parent. However, the court can refuse to hear a grandparent visitation or custody action if both parents believe that contact with the grandparents is not in their child’s best interests. This applies even if the court determines that neither parent should maintain custody of the child, so long as both parents agree that the child should not go to the grandparents.
In addition, grandparents are allowed to seek custody of a grandchild if they have an established relationship with their grandchild and there have been issues of abuse, neglect, or dependency in the home. If the grandchild has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 months in Pennsylvania, child custody actions can also be brought to the court. One final scenario in which a grandparent can seek custody of a grandchild is if the child of the grandparent, who is the parent of the grandchild in question, has died.
Third Party Custody Rights
New Pennsylvania law also creates an opening for grandparent custody of a grandchild through third party custody rights. If the child’s biological parents can not be located, a third party may request custody if they have a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child. Third party actions can not be filed if there is already a dependency hearing with the court or a permanent custody order has been granted. However, if a grandparent has been caring for a grandchild when the parents have disappeared or died, a third party action could establish custody rights in the grandparents as in loco parentis. This action was meant to keep children with adults who are already caring and have established a relationship with the child in addition to keeping these children out of the Pennsylvania foster care system.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
If you are looking to establish custody of your grandchild in Pennsylvania, new laws may make it more likely that your action will succeed in court. Call or contact the Martin Law Firm today to discuss your legal options.