Seeking custody of your grandchildren in Pennsylvania

For many children, grandparents play an invaluable role in their lives. Unfortunately, this valuable relationship in a child's life can be prematurely severed because of divorce, separation, death of a parent, or a falling out between the parents and grandparents.

Under the law, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is one that the parents are free to terminate in most cases. However, in certain circumstances, grandparents who are stripped of their ability to see their grandchildren can assert their grandparents' rights in court and seek partial custody of their grandchildren.

Partial custody

Under Pennsylvania statutes, grandparents have the right to seek partial physical custody of their grandchildren in certain circumstances. Grandparents who are awarded partial physical custody rights are able to spend time with their grandchildren away from the parental home without being supervised, and possibly on an overnight basis. Under the law, grandparents may seek partial custody in the following circumstances:

  • When the parent of the child is deceased
  • When the child has been separated from his or her parents for at least six months
  • When the child has resided with his or her grandparents for at least one year (excluding absences that are temporary) and has been removed from the grandparents' care by his or her parents. However, in this case, a grandparent must petition the Court for partial custody within six months of the child leaving their household.

Like other child custody decisions, in deciding whether to award the grandparents partial custody of their grandchildren, the court considers what would be in the best interests of the grandchildren. In deciding what is best for the grandchildren, the court will consider many factors and will favor arrangements that would promote their emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

The court will also consider the extent that an award of partial custody would interfere with the grandchild's relationship with his or her parents, disfavoring a custody award if it would substantially interfere with this relationship.

Full custody

In some rare cases, grandparents can seek primary physical and legal custody of their grandchildren. In this arrangement, the grandchild would live with his or her grandparents who would have the right to make decisions concerning his or her future (e.g. life decisions a parent is allowed to make for his or her child). However, the law allows grandparents to seek full custody only in cases where the child has already lived with the grandparents consecutively for one year or when there is a substantial risk of harm to the grandchild because of parental alcohol/drug abuse or child neglect/abuse.

Like partial custody, the decision to award full custody is based on what would be in the best interests of the grandchildren.

A family law attorney can help

Whether to award full or partial custody to the child's grandparents is a question that can be decided either way, depending on the surrounding circumstances. If you are concerned about the safety of your grandchild or have been denied the opportunity to visit them, contact an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can review your case, fully advise you of your rights under law and work to ensure a positive outcome for your grandchild.