Published on July 17th, 2021 | by Bibhuranjan0
Seeking Custody of a Minor as a Grandparent
Custody of minor children can be awarded to grandparents if they present a strong case. Grandparents’ child custody rights vary from one state to another. In all cases, courts consider the children’s best interests.
How Can Grandparents Obtain Custody?
There are several circumstances in which grandparents can gain custody of grandchildren.
After Death of Custodial Parent
A grandparent can have a good chance of establishing child custody after a custodial parent dies. Courts often first choose to place the child with his or her other parent. If that is not in the best interests of the child or is impossible, a close blood relative could have custody. The court will determine the best individual to gain custody if there are other relatives besides the grandparent capable of and willing to take care of the child.
Several factors can give a grandparent a strong case. For example, the custodial parent and grandchild could have already been living with the grandparents. In such a case, grandparent custody could offer stability, which courts value during children’s development. Showing that children desire to live with their grandparents or the deceased parent left a valid will naming the grandparent as the legal guardian can also be helpful.
When Parents Are Alive
Grandparents can be given custody of their grandchildren voluntarily by the parents. Such grandparents may formalize the child custody agreement. Both parents may be unwilling or unable to care for their children, for example, because of certain hardships. As a result, they may voluntarily give up custody to their own parents.
One parent can agree to have his or her parents take custody if the whereabouts of the other parent is unknown. An underage parent may not be financially or emotionally able to care for his or her child, making him or her give up custody of the child. A court can grant joint custody to a young mother and the child’s grandparent until the mother can care for the child independently. Child custody orders involving grandparent rights can be modified if substantial changes in circumstances occur.
If a child’s parents do not consent to grandparent custody, the grandparent may have to show that the parents are unfit to retain custody or one parent is unfit and the other will not or cannot take the child. Parents can be found unfit for reasons like child abuse, neglect, mental illness, and substance abuse.
In several states, certain conditions have to be met for a parent to be considered unfit because of substance abuse. The conditions may include a child being given drugs or being present where they are stored or manufactured. Some states consider a pregnant woman guilty of abusing her unborn child if she uses drugs during pregnancy. Each state has its laws about substance abuse, so a grandparent may need to find out if his or her specific situation falls within the guidelines for substance abuse from a family law attorney.
Even in the circumstances above, a grandparent may not be granted custody if there are other family members also seeking custody of the child. Courts attempt to establish the custody arrangement that will be best for the child. Factors that can help grandparents gain custody include the children having a strong bond with the grandparents and the children have lived with one or both of their grandparents for a year or more.
Courts also consider the financial situation, age, and health of the grandparents when assessing their ability to care for a grandchild.
Steps That Help Grandparents Get Custody
Although custody cases are different, grandparents can take certain steps to support their case.
Tracking Days with Grandchildren
Courts can consider a grandchild’s degree of contact with his or her grandparents before the filing of the custody petition. Grandparents can keep a calendar to help track a child’s days with them and the parents. Taking photographic evidence of the grandparent-grandchild relationship can also be beneficial.
Using Tactical Advantage
Parents who are marginally fit to care for their children will have periods of decreased and heightened parenting abilities over the course of their children’s lives. A grandparent can take advantage of a decrease in parenting abilities to get custody and protect his or her grandchild from potential instability. For example, a grandparent can seek custody after a parent is arrested, engaging in a certain addiction, is involved with a physically abusive partner, or suffering from mental illness.
Grandparents should not falsify or exaggerate claims or reports to gain a tactical advantage.
Talking With an Experienced Attorney
Child custody cases involving grandparents are often challenging. It is not simply a matter of comparing the parental abilities of parents and grandparents. Grandparents can even lose custody to parents with deficient parenting skills. Therefore, it is essential for grandparents looking to gain custody of grandchildren to seek advice from a family law attorney experienced in third-party cases in their jurisdiction.
When talking with an attorney, a grandparent should honestly discuss issues like:
- The role that he or she has played in the grandchild’s life
- The role other family members have played in the child’s life
- Concerns regarding the parental fitness of his or her child
- The strengths and weaknesses of the other parent
The more information a grandparent provides, the better placed that his or her attorney will be to provide guidance and plan adequately to improve the grandparent’s chances of being awarded custody.
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