THE EXPANDING CHILD CUSTODY RIGHTS OF GRANDPARENTS IN PENNSYLVANIA
Who in Pennsylvania Can Ask for Custody of a Child?
In Pennsylvania, a parent of a child who is under 18 years old has a right to petition the court for any available forms of physical and/or legal custody of that child. So too can any person who has assumed the role of a parent and performed parental duties for a child. Physical custody is defined by the Pennsylvania Child Custody Statute as the actual physical possession and control of a child. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions – like medical, educational, and religious decisions – for a child. In the last few years, Pennsylvania law has expanded the rights of grandparents who have not assumed a parenting role and performed parental duties to seek all forms of physical and legal custody of their grandchildren in certain situations.
Assuming The Role Of A Parent
This assumption of a parenting role must be with the consent of one or both of the parents. At least one parent of the child must have asked third parties – such as an aunt, or close friend, or grandparents – to have the child live with them and to take care of that child in order for the third party to assume a parenting role that gives them the right to ask the court for all forms of physical or legal custody of that child.
Performing Parental Duties
The performance of parental duties for a child is shown by providing financial assistance to the child, provided shelter, food, and clothing for the child and generally caring for the child in the absence of the parents. Persons who assume a parenting role and provide parental duties to a child are said to be “in loco parentis” to the child. Pennsylvania law permits a person who is “in loco parentis” to a child to seek all forms of physical and/or legal custody of that child. Pennsylvania law considers such persons to have voluntarily placed themselves in a situation where they are acting as parents to the child without having formally adopted the child.
Expanded Rights of Grandparents to Obtain Custody of Grandchildren
What is relatively new to Pennsylvania child custody law is the concept that grandparents who have not assumed a parenting role or performed parental duties for a grandchild (who are not “in loco parentis” to a grandchild under Pennsylvania law) are now permitted to petition for all forms physical and legal custody of their grandchild in specific situations. One situation is when the court has declared the grandchild to be a dependent child in a juvenile proceeding brought by a county children and youth agency. A second situation is when the grandchild is at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol use, or incapacity. A third situation exists when a grandchild has resided with grandparents for a period of at least 12 consecutive months and is then removed from that home by the parents. This expansion of grandparent rights clearly is a reaction to the growing number of children in our society who are suffering from having absolutely no responsible parenting.
More Child Custody Rights of Grandparents (and Even Great-Grandparents)
Grandparents and great-grandparents in certain other situations also have a right to petition a court for partial physical custody of a grandchild or great-grandchild. The Pennsylvania Child Custody Statute defines “partial physical custody” as the right to assume physical custody of a child for less than a majority of the time. When the parent of the grandchild or great-grandchild has died; where the parents have been separated for a period of at least six months or have filed for divorce; or when a grandchild or great-grandchild has lived with a grandparent or great-grandparent for at least a period of 12 consecutive months and is then removed from the home by the parent – grandparents or great-grandparents, as the case may be, have the right to ask a court to allow them to have partial physical custody of their grandchild or great-grandchild.
MFDD’s experienced family law attorneys have settled and liquidated child custody cases in the Lehigh Valley and throughout Pennsylvania for the last 30 years. MFDD has assisted grandparents to gain legal and physical custody of their grandchildren when those children are in despair and in desperate need of a stable and loving home. In all child custody cases judges are required to reach their decisions based upon what is in the child’s best interests. MFDD offers very affordable comprehensive initial consultations to address child custody and all other family law questions. These consultations allow you to gain an understanding of all your legal options before taking any steps you will regret. We look forward to hearing from you!