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What Are Grandparents’ Rights to Custody in Pennsylvania?

When it comes to maintaining access to grandchildren in the midst of their parents’ divorce and beyond, grandparents in Pennsylvania have rights, for several types or categories of custody.

Recent changes in the state’s Custody Statute strengthen grandparents’ physical and legal custody rights as determined by “the best interest” of the child or children.

Under prior custody law, the definition of “visitation” was unclear and confusing. It could grant the right to visit a child while he/she is still physically with his/her parents and may not have included overnights. Pennsylvania’s revised laws eliminate this word entirely and new categories replace the ambiguous language. Primary physical custody refers to the parent where the child or children sleep overnight more than half of the time; partial physical custody replaces the term “visitation.” Shared physical custody is “equal” time with both parents, while sole physical custody is “exclusive custody by one parent.” Finally, supervised physical custody is just that: custody supervised by a third party. For the first time, grandparents can pursue any of these types of custody.

Grandparents, under certain conditions as determined by the Court, may pursue primary physical or legal custody, under the following scenarios:

  • If the grandparent assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child
  • The child has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months
  • If the relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order
  • If the child is significantly at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or parent incapacity

Grandparents seeking primary custody of a grandchild currently in the care of parents should understand that the court’s decisions are made after reviewing and applying the sixteen factors specifically set forth in the revised statute in determining “the best interests” of the child or children.

Partial custody or supervised physical custody can also be pursued by grandparents when:

  • A parent is deceased
  • The child’s parents have been separated for at least six months or started divorce proceedings
  • The child has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months

For additional information on any aspect of grandparents’ rights in Pennsylvania, contact Timoney Knox LLP.

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