Can a Grandparent Sue for Custody of their Grandchild?

Grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in the upbringing of this generation of children. Whether grandparents are assisting parents by attending to children while the parents are working or are in some other way absent, the older generation has been providing a stabilizing force in many families. But what happens when there is some kind of issue within a family that demands legal action? How does family law work in this case, and can a grandparent sue for custody of their grandchild if they believe that they offer the best care and most nurturing environment?

Family law has recently been rewritten in the state of Pennsylvania to address this specific issue. This action was, in part, driven by the increasing number of parental deaths and incapacity instances stemming from the opioid crisis. To address the need for compassionate care for children in these and other circumstances, the legislature passed a bill that made clear the circumstances under which grandparents can seek custody of their grandchild. The new law, which was signed by Governor Tom Wolf in May of 2018, made clear that when both of a child’s biological parents are absent, whether due to their death or for any other reason, grandparents are able to file for legal custody of the child.

This bill resolved issues that previously existed in Pennsylvania where the Supreme Court had indicated a need for more clarity on the subject of grandparental custody rights and where they should and should not be granted. The court had put an end to the ability of grandparents to seek custody based simply on the basis of a six-month separation between the child’s parents. The new family law makes clear that if a custody action has been initiated by either parent, a grandparent can also file for custody, but if both parents believe that the grandparent having custody is not in the best interest of the child then the grandparent’s claim is automatically shut down.

Grandparents are also permitted to seek custody of a grandchild with whom they have a relationship whenever there are issues of neglect, abuse or dependency, when the child’s parent (who is their child) died, as well as when the child lived with them for a minimum of 12 months.

Family law issues are complex and can be emotionally challenging. The best way to understand your rights and the way to pursue them is to meet with an experienced family law attorney. Contact us today to set up an appointment.