There are many reasons why some parents are unable to care for their child or children, either temporarily or on a permanent basis. In many of these situations, grandparents will step in to raise the child. In Pennsylvania, where there is an opioid epidemic, grandparent child custody is becoming increasingly common. Unfortunately, the current laws regarding grandparents’ rights make it difficult for grandparents to assume the role of caretaker for their grandchildren. Pennsylvania legislators are currently trying to make it easier through the introduction of a new bill.
According to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), parents have a fundamental right to care for and make decisions regarding the care, custody and management of their children. However, states generally have statutes allowing for grandparent visitation or custody in certain circumstances. Courts will consider several factors before deciding to award custody to grandparents, including the relationship between the parents, the relationship between the parent and child and the fitness of the child’s parents.
Courts may grant custody to the child’s grandparents if both the child’s parents are deceased. However, if both parents are alive, there is a presumption in favor of granting custody to the child’s parents. For grandparents to overcome this presumption, they must show that the parents are unfit to raise their child.
A new Pennsylvania state bill would expand grandparents’ rights, making it easier for them to obtain temporary guardianship while the child’s parents are in an inpatient facility or receiving emergency medical intervention. According to the sponsoring representative, grandparents would then be able to make legal custody decisions on behalf of the child, such as enrolling them in school or taking them to a doctor. The representative emphasizes that the current law is designed for divorced families and does not take into consideration situations in which parents are incapable of taking care of their children.
One senator who introduced the federal Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act (SGRGA) earlier this year stated that the opioid epidemic is having a profoundly negative effect on Pennsylvania families and communities. He emphasized that grandparents should have the resources to raise their grandchildren and save for their retirement at the same time. The SGRGA would create a task force responsible for providing resources to grandparents to help them navigate the school system, address mental health needs, build social support networks and identify any further needs not being addressed.
The new state bill would still subject grandparents to background checks and judges would still have the authority to decide whether to grant temporary guardianship. Also, guardianship would be limited to 60 days, after which court approval would be required for extensions up to 365 days total. The senator believes that the bill will protect the rights of parents while increasing grandparents’ rights in situations where they are stepping in to raise the children of parents suffering from addiction.
If you have questions about grandparents’ rights in Pennsylvania, contact an experienced West Chester child custody lawyer at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. We will fight for what is best for you and your family. From our West Chester and Media, Pennsylvania offices, we represent clients Delaware County, Chester County and Montgomery County. To discuss your case, contact us online or call us at 610-565-3700 to schedule a free consultation.