Pittsburgh Family Law Services, P.C. Blog

I'm being cut out of my grandchild's life: what are my rights?

Block 1
There’s no doubt that grandparents and grandchildren often share a special bond. Grandparents have often stepped in to assist with childcare and take the children out to do fun things. In the last decade, many grandparents are taking on a larger role because their children and grandchildren reside with them. When everyone gets along, this is a wonderful arrangement. Unfortunately when a marriage breaks apart, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes one or even both parents refuse to let the grandparents see the children. When that happens, grandparents wonder if they have any rights and if a court can give them an order allowing them to see their grandchildren. 

Before a court can give you a custody order, it first has to determine that you have such a great interest in a child’s welfare that you have the right to ask for custody. This concept is known as standing. There are a few ways grandparents can establish this. The first way is to establish that they have been acting as a child’s parent, a concept known as “in loco parentis.”  People who argue that they act in loco parentis often take on responsibilities such as arranging for and attending medical appointments, arranging for and addressing the child’s medical needs, and providing the child a safe home to live in. This is an extremely difficult standard to meet and most often happens when neither parent is caring for the child. 

A grandparent can also establish standing if a child has been determined to be dependent, if the child is substantially at risk because of parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or incapacity, or if the child resided with the grandparents for at least 12 months prior to leaving. If a grandparent is alleging that the child is substantially at risk, she will have to be prepared to show evidence of what that parental abuse or neglect looks like.

Since 2018, grandparents also have the ability to pursue standing if they are willing to assume responsibility for their grandchild, if they can demonstrate a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child’s welfare, and if they establish that neither parent has any form of care of the child. 

If a grandparent can establish standing using any of these grounds, she will not only be able to see her grandchild, but can also ask to have authority to make medical and educational decisions.  This type of authority isn’t appropriate in every case though. There are a few other ways for grandparents to pursue custody so that they can at least spend some defined time with their grandchildren. 

A grandparent can request custody of their grandchild if their own child (their grandchild’s parent) is deceased. They can also pursue a custody action if their grandchild resided with them for at least 12 months.  Finally, they can ask for custody if there is already an ongoing court case and the parents don’t agree about whether the grandparents should have custody. 

Establishing standing is just the first step to obtaining a custody order. A court will not discuss a final custody order until after it determines that grandparents have the ability to request custody.  Depending on the situation, the type of custody grandparents can have ranges from brief periods of time once a month to having primary custody. The court makes that determination after considering all relevant factors about a child’s best interest. 

Grandparents do not automatically have standing to pursue a custody case in Pennsylvania. Every situation is unique and highly fact-specific. To maximize your chances of having a successful outcome, it’s important to speak with a local child custody attorney as soon as possible.