What Rights Do Grandparents Have?

Becoming a grandparent is a milestone event. Building a bond with your grandchildren may have been a long-held dream of yours. You likely work hard at strengthening that bond at every opportunity.

So, when your grandchildren’s parents announce their decision to divorce or separate, you may be naturally concerned. And you may start to wonder, what rights do you have as a grandparent?

Grandparent Visitation and Custody

The changing nature of many parental/societal norms, such as parents who were never married or even lived together and the opioid epidemic, finds Pennsylvania law struggling to keep up with the times and provide for workable solutions. Like many states, Pennsylvania primarily leaves the decision of grandparent visitation up to parents. Even still, grandparents may seek a form of custody in certain situations, including when:

  • One parent dies.
  • Parents have been divorced.
  • Children have lived with their grandparents for more than 12 consecutive months in an in loco parentis relationship.
  • Children have been adjudicated as dependent.

In most cases, grandparent visitation takes the form of “supervised physical custody” or “partial physical custody.” As the name implies, supervised physical custody occurs under the supervision of an adult, usually the child’s parent. Partial physical custody means grandparents can take grandchildren on outings or trips or even overnights without supervision.

Grandparents may also seek full legal and primary custody in limited circumstances. In addition to meeting one of the requirements above, grandparents must prove that:

  • They have a substantial relationship with the child that is (or was) encouraged by his or her parent(s).
  • They have the financial ability and willingness to assume custody.
  • Assuming custody will protect and preserve the child’s best interests.

These are the general requirements for seeking grandparent custody or visitation in Pennsylvania. However, a recent case both clarifies and narrows them.

Challenges for Grandparents

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took up the case of D.P. and B.P. v. G.J.P. and A.P. In this case, the parents had separated but not divorced from one another. After six months’ separation, the children’s paternal grandparents sought partial physical custody. The parents blocked this move, arguing that the grandparents did not have legal standing because six months’ separation was not a compelling enough reason to seek visitation.

The Court ultimately agreed with the parents because:

  1. Both parents agreed that grandparent visitation was not in their children’s best interests, and
  2. The parents were not divorced and had not initiated divorce proceedings.

The Court’s decision expressly did not approve or disapprove of the effect of divorce on the issue, and also left undecided how to handle grandparents’ rights when the parents never married each other.

Legislative modifications regarding grandparents’ rights are due to take effect the summer of 2018, but do not address all of contested issues that can arise. For example the lawyers at Berman and Asbel in 2018 convinced the court that grandparents can seek custody of their grandchild where their child’s parental rights were terminated by the court. The lawyers at Berman & Asbel excel at helping clients navigate such complicated family issues. If you are worried about your grandchildren, come talk to us about your case.