A typical custody action consists of parents engaging in a legal battle to determine to what extent each individual will have custody of their kids. The court will do its best to find an outcome that is in the best interests of the children, whether it involves a joint custody arrangement or having one parent serve as the sole caregiver.
In many families, grandparents also play a prominent role in raising their grandchildren, which raises an important question: Do grandparents have the right to see their grandchildren after the parents’ separation? Also, do the grandparents’ rights extend to having legal custody of their grandchildren? While the grandparents’ legal rights are secondary to those of the parents in most cases, situations may arise that can alter the outcome.
Grandparents Visitation Laws in PA
A 2000 U.S. Supreme Court ruling established some guidelines regarding the visitation rights of grandparents. In general, a grandparent’s visitation cannot infringe upon a parent’s rights. However, each state can enact its own visitation laws.
In Pennsylvania, the custody statute provides specific direction for the custody rights of grandparents following the dissolution of the family unit. According to the statute, grandparents can pursue visitation rights — referred to as partial custody — in the situations including, but not limited to, the following:
- One or both parents are deceased
- The parents have been separated for a minimum of six months or have filed an action for separation or divorce
- The child has lived with the grandparents for a minimum of one year
Additionally, the grandparents must demonstrate that their visitation is in the best interest of the child and does not disrupt the relationship between the parent and child. Other factors the court will consider when deciding whether to grant grandparents visitation rights include the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the child, the nature of the relationship between the child and the grandparents and, in the case of older children, their preferences.
Can a Grandparent Obtain Child Custody in PA?
Recent changes in the law have significantly impacted grandparents’ custody rights in Pennsylvania. In 2016, the PA Supreme Court issued a ruling that limited a grandparent’s right to custody. Specifically, the ruling indicated that they could not seek custody solely on the basis that the parents were separated for at least six months. However, the court indicated the need to delve further into the issue.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf that further clarified when grandparents could seek and obtain custody of their grandchildren. The impetus for the new legislation was the epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction in the state that was, in many cases, affecting the ability of parents to raise their children.
Under the law, grandparents now have expanded custody rights in situations where both parents are absent due to death or other reasons, such as when the parents are unable to care for their children properly because of their addiction. The new law allows grandparents to pursue custody when one of the parents has already initiated a custody action. However, the courts can refuse to consider the motion if both parents feel that living with the grandparents would not be in their child’s best interests.
Other instances where grandparents can pursue custody of their grandchildren include when the child has lived with them for at least one year or when there are issues of abuse or neglect. Another situation is when the parent who is the child of the grandparent has passed away.
Can Biological Grandparents Obtain Custody of Adopted Children?
Parents may decide for a variety of reasons to put their children up for adoption. But how does this impact a grandparents’ custody rights? In general, the right to pursue custody or visitation ends with the adoption of the grandchild. The only possible exceptions are when the adopting parties are either blood relatives or a step-parent of the grandchild. However, the courts can deny the grandparents’ rights in situations where the relationship could interfere with the step-parent-child relationship.
Contact MPL Law Firm Regarding Grandparents’ Rights in York, PA
MPL Law Firm can assist you with issues pertaining to grandparents’ custody and visitation rights in the York, PA, area. We take the time to listen closely to our clients so we can provide the best legal advice for their unique situation. To us, our clients represent much more than a case or transaction. We’ll work closely with you to find the path that will provide the most optimistic outcome under the circumstances.
Contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation today.