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.
Grandparents' rights to custody in Pennsylvania are governed by the Pennsylvania Child Custody Act. The Act was recently revised, with changes going into effect on July 3, 2018. 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 any form of 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 are willing to assume responsibility for the child, and when one of the following conditions is met:
- The child has been determined to be a dependent child by the court.
- The child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity, or
- 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.
Additionally, an individual may now file for custody so long as there is no ongoing dependency proceeding or an order of permanent legal custody if he or she can establish by clear and convincing evidence all of the following:
- The individual has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- The individual has a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child (considering such factors as the nature, quality, extent, and length of the involvement by the individual in the child’s life).
- Neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.
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:
- 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.
- Where the relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order and where the parents have commenced a proceeding for custody and do not agree as to whether the grandparents or great-grandparents should have partial or supervised custody.
- 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, the best interests of the children will govern, and a presumption in favor of parents may have to be overcome. 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. 2/19