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When can a grandparent file for custody of a child?

Grandparents in Pennsylvania sometimes wonder what their legal rights are with regard to child custody. This is especially true when the grandparents feel that the child's parents may not be responsible or suitable caretakers for the child. Pennsylvania does have a process by which grandparents can file for custody. The grandparents must meet certain criteria. Much of the criteria depends on whether the grandparents are filing for full custody or for partial custody of the child.

To apply for full custody under Pennsylvania custody law, the grandparents must first be willing to assume full legal and financial responsibility for the child. Assuming that is met, the grandparents also must have a relationship established with the child. That relationship can be established through court-ordered visitation. In instances where a parent is keeping a child away from grandparents, the grandparents may need to first seek visitation to establish the relationship before seeking custody.

After meeting those two criteria, the grandparents must show why it is in the best interest of the child for them to have custody. This could be because the court has declared the child dependent under the state's abuse and neglect law. It could also be because the court believes the child's parents are incompetent due to drug or alcohol abuse or general neglect. Grandparents can also file for full custody if the child has lived with them for 12 consecutive months, but has since been removed from the home by the parents. The grandparents must file within six months of the removal.

Grandparents can also file for partial custody if one of the child's parents has died or if the parents are in the middle of a divorce. In a filing for partial custody, the grandparent doesn't have to take full legal and financial responsibility for the child. A family law attorney could advise a grandparent on which type of custody would be most appropriate and how best to proceed.

Source: Women's Law Project, "PA's CHILD CUSTODY LAW: What You Ned To Know", November 17, 2014

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