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Do grandparents have rights when it comes to custody?

Grandparents play an important role in their grandchildren's lives and the larger family dynamic. In the best case scenario, grandparents have consistent access to their grandchildren, with the parents' blessing, and are able to develop close, positive relationships with them. However, best case scenario doesn't happen all the time, and there are times when grandparents may find themselves facing an uphill battle trying to get access to their grandchildren. If you are currently dealing with this type of scenario, you may be able to file for custody in the family courts, but you need to be aware of what that entails.

Situations when a grandparent may be able to file for custody

Like many other states, the Pennsylvania courts have set up specific guidelines for when a grandparent has grounds to petition the courts for physical custody, sometimes referred to as visitation, or legal custody. One of the following situations must be present:

  • At least one parent has died
  • The parents have been separated for at least six months or are divorced
  • The child has previously lived with the grandparent for at least one year

However, the presence of one of these three criteria does not automatically mean that you will be awarded full or even partial custody. The courts are always most concerned with what is in the best interests of the child and preserving the parent-child relationship. As the person filing, you will have the burden of showing the courts why the child is being harmed by a lack of contact with you and why the parent's decision to refuse access is a poor one.

First steps

The first step in any kind of situation where you are considering filing for custody or court-ordered access to your grandchildren is to talk with the parents. Misunderstandings and miscommunications are common, and you may find that the parent is not opposed to you being in the child's life at all. However, if you believe that your grandchildren's parent is unfit or you are being refused access, you will likely need to talk to a family law attorney to find out more about your legal options and what to expect.

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