Lehigh Valley Grandparents’ Rights

In certain situations, grandparents and even great-grandparents may have custodial rights to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  At Littner, Deschler & Littner, our child custody attorneys have experience representing parties in these types of cases.

If you are a grandparent or great-grandparent, the law only permits you to pursue custody of your grandchild or great-grandchild if you satisfy certain conditions.  It is critical that you know what those conditions are before filing a claim for custody.  In some situations, the law also limits the time in which you must file a custody claim.

A grandparent may seek any kind or physical or legal custody of a child if the grandparent stands “in loco parentis” to the child.  The Latin phrase “in loco parentis” refers to a person who puts oneself in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations incident to the parental relationship without going through the formality of a legal adoption.  In loco parentis standing will be found where the child has established strong psychological bonds with a person who, although not a biological parent, has lived with the child and provided care, nurture, and affection, assuming in the child’s eye a stature like that of a parent.

Additionally, a grandparent who does not stand in loco parentis to a child may still seek any form of legal or physical custody if the following three conditions are met:

  • The grandparent’s relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order; and
  • The grandparent assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
  • When one of the following conditions is met: (a) the child has been determined to be a dependent child; (b) the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or (c) 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.

A grandparent or great-grandparent may seek partial or supervised physical custody of a child where:

  • the parent of the child is deceased, a parent or grandparent of the deceased parent may file an action under this section;
  • the parents of the child have been separated for a period of at least six months or have commenced and continued a proceeding to dissolve their marriage; or
  • the child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent or great-grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents, an action must be filed within six months after the removal of the child from the home.

Where a grandparent or great-grandparent seeks custody against the child’s parent, the court presumes that the parent should be awarded primary physical custody.  This presumption may be rebutted by a legal standard known as clear and convincing evidence.  For grandparents and great-grandparents, this is a high hurdle that they must be aware of when seeking custody of a child against the child’s parent.

As with any award of custody, courts are most concerned about fashioning a custodial arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.  Whether you are a grandparent or great-grandparent considering seeking some form of custody of a child, or a parent concerned about your custodial rights being infringed upon, it is critical that you obtain competent legal advice from an attorney experienced in handling custody disputes involving grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ rights.  At Littner, Deschler & Littner, we have the experience, knowledge, and skill to assist you in these matters.