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New law grants grandparents more custody rights

Starting July 4, Pennsylvania grandparents were granted greater rights to seek child custody. A new law that took effect allows grandparents and great grandparents to seek partial custody of children if the parents are separated.

The law was enacted to address a state supreme court decision that found that a portion of Pennsylvania's custody laws was unconstitutional. Before that case, grandparents could seek partial physical custody if the children's parents were separated for at least six months or began or continued a divorce proceeding. Grandparents could also seek custody of children born out of wedlock.

The court invalidated the part of the law that permitted grandparents to seek custody if the children's parents were separated for six months. This effectively blocked requests for custody where the children's parents are unmarried.

Grandparents or great grandparents can now seek partial custody or supervised physical custody if they had a relationship with the children under a parent's consent or a court order and if the parents began a custody proceeding.

The new law gives rights to grandparents or great grandparents if the children's parents are unwed. A divorce filing is not required. However, parents can object to the grandparents or great grandparents having a relationship with the children. This new law also gives other parties the ability to bring a custody action where the parents cannot care for the children and others must fulfill this role.

A person may seek custody under this provision if they can demonstrate to a court that they took or are willing to assume responsibility for the child and that they have a true, substantial and ongoing interest in their welfare. A court may consider the nature, quality, duration and magnitude of the person's involvement in the child's life.

Individuals cannot seek custody if a dependency proceeding concerning the child has begun. An order of permanent legal custody for disposition of dependent children also prohibits this custody application.

An attorney can help grandparents, great grandparents or interested individuals seek custody. They can also help parents protect their custody rights.

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