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Grandparents’ Guide To Custody & Visitation

Article by Aleksandra Kocelko, Esq.

Under Pennsylvania law, grandparents may have the standing to initiate a custody action or receive specific custodial time. As we see parents grapple with addiction and other issues, grandparents have been stepping in more frequently to help care for children and provide more than just occasional babysitting. As a result of these issues, it is not uncommon to see grandparents intervening in a custody case or seeking visitation.

In Pennsylvania, before anyone can file a custody action, they must first show that they have “standing” or the legal right to make a claim for custody. Biological parents always have standing in a custody case, but other people may as well. For example, if someone stands “in loco parentis” or “in the shoes of the parent” they may be entitled to file a claim for custody. Pennsylvania has also carved out specific standing sections related to grandparents. A grandparent may be entitled to file a claim for any type of custody if they have or will assume responsibility for the child, they already have a relationship with the child which began with a parent’s consent, and the child is dependent, at risk, or has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months. Under these conditions, a grandparent could seek visitation, shared custody, or even primary custody of their grandchild. If a grandparent doesn’t meet one of the above conditions, they still may be able to file a claim for visitation. Visitation is not specifically defined as a set period of hours or days but can include everything from a few hours on holidays to weekend custody time each month depending on the circumstances. For a grandparent to have standing for visitation, they would need to meet one of the following conditions:

  • Their child (the parent of the grandchild) is deceased
  • The grandchild had lived with grandparents for 12 consecutive months; or
  • The grandparent had a relationship with the child and a custody action between the parents is pending and the parents don’t agree on grandparent visitation

The rules for standing may be confusing, so it is important to talk to a family law attorney about whether you may qualify for grandparent custody and what type of custody you should pursue. Keep in mind that because a grandparent might meet the standing requirements, does not guarantee they will receive custody. After getting over the standing “hurdle”, the court must determine if it is in the best interest of the child for grandparents to have custody. The custody schedule can vary dramatically depending on the circumstances.

If you are a grandparent seeking custody of a grandchild or a parent dealing with grandparent custody actions, contact the experienced family law team at Burns White for your free initial consultation. Especially in standing cases, it is critical to talk to an attorney early in the process, otherwise, you run the risk of waiving arguments or claims against standing.