How Do I Get Custody of My Grandchild?

It is an unfortunate reality many families in Pennsylvania face: due to the opioid epidemic, many parents are unable to care for their children. Partly as a result of this issue, more than 80,000 grandparents in Pennsylvania alone are raising their grandchildren, according to government estimates.

If you are in a situation where your grandchild is at risk, a Pennsylvania bill aimed at offering temporary child custody to grandparents may help your family.

Overview of the Temporary Guardianship Bill

On March 19, 2019, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1539. The state governor is expected to sign the bill to bring it into law. The bill offers grandparents temporary custody of their grandchildren in 90-day increments. The guardianship can last up to 12 months and will be held by grandparents and other family members in situations where a child’s parents are unable to offer care.

How Does the Bill Help Families?

The bill makes it easier for grandparents and family members to step in and gain guardianship of children made vulnerable by their parents’ substance abuse. In the past, it has been difficult for family members to obtain custody of children when parents were struggling with addiction. Children could easily end up in the foster system or remain living with parents unable to care for them.

The bill makes it easier for grandparents and other relatives to take over care by ensuring grandparents do not need to work to seek guardianship of their grandchildren. This bill also relieves pressure on the foster system and allows children to receive help from family members. It also provides concerned family members a pathway to secure temporary guardianship.

When parents overdose or are not able to care for their children due to substance abuse, other family members may not be able to sign the children up for school, get them medical care and otherwise act in a guardianship capacity that allows them to make decisions in the best interests of the child. This bill closes that gap and will enable grandparents to step in more quickly and easily when necessary, so children get the care they need.

Pennsylvania has also received a $479,307 federal grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. This money will go toward helping grandparents find resources to assist their grandchildren.

Future Outlook

If the opioid epidemic worsens, unfortunately more adults with children may pass away due to substance abuse and overdoses. While many states, including Pennsylvania, are working to find ways to stem the epidemic by raising awareness and encouraging doctors to be judicious when prescribing opioid medication, the epidemic may worsen before it starts to improve.

If the epidemic gets worse, new laws and supports may be needed to help grandparents and extended families get longer-term custody of grandchildren who are permanently deprived of their parents. As parents struggle with relapses, more drastic measures may be needed to ensure grandparents can intercede quickly when their grandchildren are at risk.

The current bill allows for guardianship for up to a year. Some adults struggling with addiction battle for many years, so a pathway may be needed to help grandparents gain long-term or even permanent custody in such situations.

What Can I Do Now as a Grandparent?

If you have a grandchild or young family member who is at risk due to their parents’ substance abuse, contact MPL Law. Our attorneys have supported families in York, Pa., and surrounding areas for more than three decades. In a consultation, we can review your legal options and discuss whether a temporary guardianship letter for grandparents is needed. We’ll work with you to find the best solution for you and your family.

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