Pennsylvania enacted a law earlier this year addressing grandparents' legal right to seek physical and legal custody of minor children. This right is called standing and Pennsylvania expanded standing for grandparents, great-grandparents and other interested people seeking child custody.
Grandparents, great-grandparents and other adults have standing for any type of custody if they assumed parental responsibility over the children because the children's parents could not take care of them. To qualify, their relationship with the child must have begun with the parent's approval or a court order and the grandparents must be willing to assume responsibility for the child. Other situations that may qualify include: if a juvenile court ruled that the child is a dependent, the child lived with the grandparent for at least 12 months or was removed from their home by the parents, or the child faces a substantial risk because of their parent's abuse, neglect, incapacity or drug or alcohol abuse.
If a grandparent lacks standing to seek any type of custody, they may still pursue partial or supervised physical custody. They are eligible for this custody if one of the child's parents died. Grandparents are also eligible if the parents began a custody proceeding and they cannot agree on whether the grandparents or great-grandparents should have custody. They may seek partial physical or supervised custody if their relationship with the child started with approval by one parent or through a court order.
Other parties, besides grandparents and great grandparents, may also seek custody. They must meet three conditions. First, neither parent cares for or controls the child. Next, the person seeking custody assumed or is willing to take over responsibility for the child. Finally, that person has an ongoing and significant interest in the child's welfare.
A court may not grant standing to grandparents, great grandparents or other interested parties if a juvenile court found that the child was a dependent child, or it entered a permanent custody order. They may, however, contact their county's children, youth and families' office and offer their services as a kinship relationship for the child.
An attorney can assist people seeking custody. Lawyers may also provide help to other family members who are involved in a custody dispute.