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Grandparent Rights

Grandparents' rights to custody in Pennsylvania are governed by the Pennsylvania Child Custody Act. A grandparent may file an action for any form of physical or legal custody if they stand "in loco parentis" to the child, meaning they have assumed the obligations incident to a parent-child relationship without the formality of a legal adoption. If the grandparent has not achieved "in loco parentis" status, they may seek physical or legal custody if their relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order, they have assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child, and when one of the following conditions is met:

  1. The child has been determined to be a dependent child by the court

  2. The child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity, or
  3. The child has for a period of at least 12 consecutive months resided with the grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents, in which case the action must be filed within six months after the removal of the child from the home

In the situation where a grandparent or great-grandparent wishes to pursue partial physical custody or supervised physical custody, they may do so in the following situations:

  1. They are the grandparent or great-grandparent of a child whose parent is deceased, and they are the parent or grandparent of the deceased parent
  2. Where the parents of the child have been separated for a period of at least six months or have commenced or continued a proceeding to dissolve their marriage
  3. Where the child has, for a period of twelve consecutive months, resided with the grandparent or great-grandparent, excluding brief absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents. An action must be filed within six months of the child being removed by the parents

In any proceedings brought by grandparents or others under the Act, hostility and animosity between the contestants may be sufficient to preclude grandparents' visitation or partial custody or visitation upon a finding that the relationship will be hurt. The Court will look closely at the allegations of animosity by the parents to make sure that they are well-founded and not self-serving.

The primary issue in determining whether or not grandparents will be entitled to periods of partial custody or visitation is the best interest and permanent welfare of the children involved. The Courts have consistently stated that it is in the children's best interest to preserve and nurture those relationships which are meaningful while avoiding situations which might prove harmful.  3/11

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on grandparents' rights, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.