Grandparents in Pennsylvania have limited rights when it comes to their grandchildren, but as a grandparent it is important to know what those rights are. The legislation on grandparents’ rights is largely dependent on the state of the parental situation.
A number of Courts have recently determined that state statutes providing visitation to grandparents are unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of grandparent visitation when it agreed to hear Troxel v. Granville, No. 99-138 (June 5., 2000). In 1998, Washington's Supreme Court ruled that requiring grandparent visitation violates parents' fundamental rights to raise their families without government interference. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that while this statute wasn't exactly unconstitutional, parents do have a "fundamental right" to control their child's upbringing which would include when and how much a grandparent can visit their grandchild.
A grandparents’ rights to visitation in Pennsylvania are governed by the Pennsylvania Custody and Grandparents' Visitation Act, 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 5301 et seq. (2007). This Act has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court and thus, grandparent visitation is constitutional in Pennsylvania. However, the Act provides very specific situations for grandparents with respect to visitation. A Court may grant visitation if:
- At least one of the child’s parents is deceased
- The parents are divorced or in the process of divorce
- The child has lived with the grandparents for more than 12 months
However, as in most child custody and/or visitation cases, the biggest determining factor is what is in the best interest of the child. This often will include whether visitation with the grandparent will interfere with the parent/child relationship. With the Supreme Court's decision in Troxel, Judges will also give greater weight to a parent’s right to limit visitation with a grandparent
It is possible for a grandparent to be awarded full physical and legal custody of a child but only in certain circumstances which the Court will decide. First and foremost, the Court will address what is in the best interest of the child. Additionally, the Court needs to determine if the grandparent has “genuine concern and care” for the child. Last, the Court requires that the grandparent MUST have assumed the parenting role of the child for one year, OR it has already been determined that the child lacks proper parental care, OR the grandparent believes there are detrimental circumstances surrounding the child’s living situation such as parental abuse, mental illness, neglect or substance abuse.
It is important to know that Custody Orders are never permanent and a birth parent or a caregiver who has rights to the child may file papers with the Court to try and change any custody that a grandparent has been granted.
When you need an attorney to represent you with your legal matters, contact the Law Offices of Michael Kuldiner, P.C. in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at (215) 942-2100 or contact us by submitting the form at top right.