The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizes the special bond formed between grandparents and their grandchildren, and that this relationship is susceptible to strain and disruption if the child’s parents separate or divorce.
In the interest of preserving the grandparent-grandchild relationship, laws have been enacted which provide grandparents the ability to pursue various forms of custody of their grandchildren. If a grandparent has been involved in the life of their grandchildren, Pennsylvania laws protect their right to continue that relationship. However, to exercise these custodial rights, a grandparent must have “standing,” which is to say that the grandparent must meet the legal prerequisites necessary to assert a claim.
In order to obtain primary physical or legal custody (living with and caring for the child), a grandparent the grandparent must be willing to assume responsibility for the child, and the grandparent’s relationship with the child must have initiated from the parent’s consent or a court order, and either (1) the child is in danger; (2) the child has been “adjudicated dependent” (found by a court to be without proper parental care or control); or (3) the child resided with the grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months.
In the case of partial or supervised physical custody (visitation, overnight visits, etc.), a grandparent may pursue custody if the child has resided with the grandparent for at least twelve (12) consecutive months and the parent is either (1) deceased; (2) separated for six (6) months; or (3) has filed for divorce.
Simply because a grandparent has standing does not mean that their custody request will be granted. A court will examine the law, the relevant legal presumptions, and a wide range of factual issues in determining the type and amount of custody to award, or whether to award custody at all. However, as a general rule; if a grandparent has been actively involved in the life of their grandchildren, and is now being shutout, the courts will assist in continuing to foster the grandparent/grandchild relationship. It is essential to have an attorney present your custody case persuasively and in the way that gives you the best chance at success.
The law gives parents wide latitude in determining how best to raise their children, and great deference to their decisions concerning with whom their children will interact. That the law allows grandparents the ability to seek to impose their will over a parent’s objection is a testament to the strength of the bond between children and their grandparents.