Every family member plays a role in a child's development. Sometimes, grandparents might feel inclined to step in to help raise a child if the child's biological parents suffered an untimely death or are otherwise incapable of caring for them.
It's possible for grandparents or other caregivers can obtain custody in Pennsylvania.
What Does PA Law Say About Grandparents' Rights?
In general, the laws in Pennsylvania do not allow grandparents to overrule the rights of the parents in bringing up their children.
However, courts may intervene if placing a child in their grandparents' care is in their best interests. This includes cases of neglect, abuse, or dependency. If you are a grandparent, you can seek custody of your grandchildren in the following instances:
Any third party can file a petition for custody in Pennsylvania if they want to assume responsibility for a child with absentee parents. The law defines absentee parents as those not caring for or controlling their child's upbringing. The court will award custody to the third party if it is in the child's best interests.
Death of the Parents
You can seek custody of your grandchildren after the death of their biological parents. This is possible even if only one of their parents dies.
Change of Living Arrangements
You can seek partial physical custody if your grandchild has been living with you for 12 consecutive months before the parent removes the child.
This could occur in cases where a child lived with their grandparent while their parent was undergoing rehabilitation or in situations where the parent was living with the child in the grandparents' home. You must file a petition for visitation within six months of the child being removed.
When Can Grandparents Gain Custody of Children?
There are circumstances in which grandparents may feel compelled to seek custody of their grandchildren. This is especially the case when grandchildren have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents.
Grandparents may seek any form of custody (including primary physical custody) if they can meet the following criteria under Pennsylvania Law: A relationship between grandparent and grandchild was encouraged by the child's parent or was the result of a court order
The grandparent is willing to or already has assumed custody of their grandchild AND (at least one of the following additional criteria must be met)
- The child has been declared “delinquent” under dependency laws
- The child is at substantial risk of abuse or neglect by their parent(s)
The child has lived for at least 12 consecutive months with their grandparent and the grandparents begin the action within 6 months of the child moving from the home.
Grandparents may also seek custody (any amount of custody less than primary custody) if:
- The grandparent is the parent of the deceased parent of the child
- The parents of the child have begun a custody action and the parents do not agree about whether the grandparents should have access to the children
- The child has lived for at least 12 consecutive months with their grandparent and the grandparents begin the action within 6 months of the child moving from the home
After a grandparent establishes they are allowed to seek custody, then the Court will decide if granting the custody sought will meet the best interests of the child, using the same factors used when deciding custody between separated parents, such as:
- The level of contact the child has had with their grandparent before the custody filing
- Whether granting custody to the grandparent will interfere with the child's relationship with their parent
- Whether the grandparent can meet the child's physical and emotional needs.
What Types of Custody Can Grandparents Have?
Under Pennsylvania law, grandparents can seek:
- Partial physical custody – the parents will have custody of the child most of the time, while the grandparent will have physical custody for a lesser time.
- Primary physical custody – the grandparents will assume physical custody of the child, meaning the child will live with the grandparents.
How can Grandparents Obtain Custody?
To get custody of your grandchildren, you must file a custody petition with a court in the county where the child resides or has resided for more than six months.
If the child recently moved, you may have to file the petition in the county they previously lived, and normally you must do that within six (6) months of any move, so it's important to meet with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights and your grandchildren, if needed.
It's important to recognize that even if grandparents may have the right to seek custody and file a request with the Court, the court may still decide it is not in the best interests of the child for the grandparent to have any form of custody. Hiring an experienced family law attorney will help you navigate what can be a complicated process.
Gibson Family Law, PLLC can Help
Custody laws in Pennsylvania get complicated. If you're a grandparent hoping to preserve your relationship with your grandchildren, or you're striving to give them shelter if their parents are being abusive, you should consider hiring an experienced family law attorney.
Attorney Susan Gibson with Gibson Family Law, PLLC, is prepared to help you navigate the challenging circumstances of child custody. She's ready to listen to your case, and she'll guide you through the necessary steps you'll need to take to secure custody or visitation rights.