Third-Party Custody and Visitation Rights in Pennsylvania

Posted by Joseph Lento | Jun 04, 2021 | 0 Comments

While custody cases usually only contemplate the custody rights of a child's two parents, in some instances in Pennsylvania, the right of custody may also extend to grandparents and other third parties who stand in loco parentis to the child.

In loco parentis is a Latin term that means “in the place of a parent.” For custody purposes, it means that a court can award custody to a third party — other than one of the child's parents — if it determines that is in the best interests of the child.

Notably, Pennsylvania strives to protect the rights of natural parents and protect the nuclear family unit even in cases of divorce. Because of this priority, the standards for establishing in loco parentis are high, and the parent must have had explicitly or implicitly consented to the formation of the third party in loco parentis relationship with the child.

Establishing in Loco Parentis in a Pennsylvania Custody Case

In Pennsylvania, there are two main factors a court will consider when deciding whether a third party is sufficiently in loco parentis to a child to be awarded custody. The first consideration is whether the person has assumed parental status regarding the child. Generally speaking, this means that the third party has put themselves into the position of assuming parental obligations, such as providing food, shelter, clothing, and other support. The second factor considers whether the third party has actually performed these parental duties for the child.

If the court judges that the third party has enjoyed a parent-like relationship with the child based on these factors, it can award custody to that third party. The third party involved in custody proceedings could be any adult, including current or ex-spouses or partners, siblings, other relatives, or even friends or neighbors. The characterization of the relationship in societal terms, then, is irrelevant so long as the third party is in loco parentis to the child.

Grandparents' Custody and Visitation Rights

Grandparents increasingly appear in custody cases, whether to assert custody or visitation rights. Court decisions have made clear that grandparents can establish an in loco parentis relationship to the child just as any other third party. If they are unable to meet that standard, grandparents may pursue a different route to seek custody. In this case, grandparents must prove that they have assumed or are willing to assume responsibility for the child as well as that the grandchild is in any of the following circumstances:

  • declared to be a dependent in a juvenile proceeding;
  • at risk because of parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use, or incapacity; or
  • has lived with the grandparent for at least the past 12 consecutive months and was removed from the home by the parents.

If a grandparent does not meet the above standards for requesting custody, they may still have the standing to sue for partial custody or visitation rights, particularly if they are the parent or even grandparent of a deceased parent of a child.

Custody cases, especially those that involve in loco parentis determinations, can be incredibly complex because of the various priorities involved. If your situation requires clarification of the rights of a third party regarding child custody, you should seek legal advice from an experienced family law attorney immediately. Call our Family Law Team and the LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case today.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Contact a skilled Family Law Team Today!

The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.