When a parent, for any reason, is not able to care for or retain custody of a child, grandparents may play a role in the care of the child. The role of grandparents in custody procedures can be very important.
Situations When A Grandparent Should Seek Custody
Grandparents that have to take care of a child for an extended period of time, may not always need to take up custodial duties for the child. For instance, if a parent needs the grandparents to watch a child for a short time period, such as a week or even a month, custody arrangements need not be made. However, in the case of the incapacitation, incarceration or death of a parent, the grandparents may make formal custody arrangements for the children.
Seeking Shared Custody or Visitation Rights
In many circumstances, shared custody with grandparents can be beneficial for the child, and the remaining parent alike. It may also help preserve the relationship between grandparents and child. Contact with grandparents may even help mend the relationship between the absent parent and child, depending upon the circumstances. Grandparents can seek out shared custody or visitation under these circumstances:
- One of the parents has died
- One of the parents has been incarcerated
- One of the parents is absent
Seeking Physical and/or Legal Custody
Some circumstances may warrant greater action than partial custody or visitation rights. These situations often involve the loss of both parents, or when parental rights have been terminated. Grandparents may find it necessary to take care of the child themselves when neither parent is able to do so. Grandparents may want to seek out physical and legal custody in these situations:
- The grandchild may be at risk of parental abuse or neglect
- One parent has died, and the remaining parent is unfit for care of the child
- Both parents are deceased
- Both parents are incarcerated
Even if the situation warrants grandparents taking responsibility the child, the grandparents must still gain recognition through the court. Most of the time, grandparents may seem like the most immediate logical choice after the parents. Many times, the grandparents simply step in without even needing to be asked. Unfortunately, the ability to make decisions on behalf of a child with absent parents requires approval from the court. In order to apply for the physical and legal custody the grandparent must demonstrate in their application through evidence:
- The parents are divorced, or have been separated for over 6 months (The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently addressed the issue of whether grandparents can file for custody when the parents have been separated for more than 6 months)
- The child has lived with the grandparents for over 12 months, and they have have provided the role of a parent for the child
- The child began their relationship with the grandparents at the consent of the parents or through a court order
- The grandparents can demonstrate genuine care and concern for the grandchild
Sometimes, urgent situations may arise where the grandparent can play an important role in taking custody of the child. By requesting visitation or shared custody, grandparents can formalize an active role in the life of a child when an absent parent, for whatever reason, may not. This can help secure a relationship or link between the child and the absent parents through the grandparents. Doing so can help reduce the likelihood of the absent parent's involuntary termination of parenthood. An absent parent may not necessarily be absent by choice, such as in the case of incarceration, hospitalization, or military deployment. These situations are not abandonment or neglect, however, a parent's absence for over 6 months time can jeopardize their rights to parenthood, regardless of situation. Grandparents can facilitate contact between absent parent and child and prevent the situation from looking like neglect or abandonment.
Custody and visitation can be a confusing process for grandparents. In the event that grandparents must step in to take custody, counsel from a lawyer can help smooth out the process. If you or a loved one is engaged in matters of Family Law, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.