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By: Robert B. George, Esquire

A parent’s right to raise a child has its basis in the U.S. Constitution, which protects a parent’s rights to make educational, medical, and even visitation decisions on a child’s behalf. Typically, if a parent doesn’t want a child to visit with a certain relative or other person, including a grandparent or grandparents, the parent’s wishes will control.

However, family structures have changed dramatically in recent years as a result of which we see more children living in single-parent households, step-parent families, and being raised by grandparents. These changing family structures have greatly impacted child visitation options, rights and the applicable laws in Pennsylvania, specifically when it comes to the custodial and visitation rights of grandparents.

As grandparents play an increasing role in the lives of their grandchildren, many may incorrectly believe they are automatically entitled to certain visitation rights. However, this is not always the case. At the same time, however, many grandparents may be unaware that they may petition a court for visitation rights or custody of their grandchild. According to the Pennsylvania Custody and Grandparents’ Visitation Act, grandparents may petition a court for partial custody and visitation under specific circumstances.

In that regard, Pennsylvania law specifically outlines four situations in which grandparents may seek custody of and/or visitation with their grandchild(ren) through the courts:

  1.  When a parent has passed away, when a divorce action is filed, or when the parents are separated for 6 months.
  2.  When the child has lived with the grandparents for 12 or more months, and then is removed by the parents. In this situation, the grandparents must file for visitation within 6 months of the child’s departure from their home.
  3.  In situations where the child is harmed mentally, emotionally, or physically if their relationship with the grandparents ends.
  4.  In some circumstances, a grandparent may have the right to seek custody of a child who is being neglected or abused by a parent.

In each of these instances, a court will try to determine what situation will be best for the child(ren) and what will best serve the child(ren) for his, her or their future. Before a court will award visitation or custody, however, many factors are taken into account including:

  1.  The child’s emotional, physical and emotional well-being.
  2.  The past relationship between the child and his or her grandparents
  3.  The child’s preferences (if applicable based on age)
  4.  The potential impact on a child’s social and intellectual growth (schooling and extracurricular activities)
For example, in one Pennsylvania case, maternal grandparents were awarded partial custody of their grandchildren where the children’s parents had divorced and the divorce court had initially awarded primary physical custody of the children to the children’s mother. During the ensuing years, however, the children spent a significant amount of time with their maternal grandparents.  The children’s mother was killed in a car crash, as a result of which the maternal grandparents sought partial custody.

The court granted the grandparents’ request even though the children’s father objected to visitation, reasoning that the grandparents had a strong bond with their grandchildren and the father’s parent-child relationship wouldn’t be harmed by the grandparents’ weekend visits.

A grandparent can’t seek visitation, however, if a child’s parents have separated or divorced and then reconciled. Moreover, a court won’t award grandparent visitation if the parent-child relationship is severely harmed by the visits.

Whatever the basis upon which a grandparent wishes to pursue custody and/or visitation rights of a grandchild or grandchildren, it is important to present the custody or visitation case in a way that shows a court you have the best interests of the child or children in mind. As a result, it can be helpful to discuss your situation with an experienced family law attorney who can help develop persuasive arguments on your behalf.

Our experienced family law attorneys can assist in your quest to protect the well-being of your grandchildren. We can use our knowledge of grandparents’ custody/visitation rights to file a petition for court-ordered custody or visitation, preserving the special bond between yourself and your grandchildren.

The attorneys at the Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP are experienced and available to help you. Contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send him an e-mail at [email protected]

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The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP, is located in Media, PA and serves clients in and around Media, Glen Riddle Lima, Brookhaven, Wallingford, Newtown Square, Lenni, Springfield, Swarthmore, Chester, Aston, Bryn Mawr, Morton, Woodlyn, Broomall, Gradyville, Folsom, Chester Heights, Crum Lynne, Glen Mills, Marcus Hook, Ridley Park, Drexel Hill, Marple, Bethel, Garnet Valley, Chadds Ford Concord, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County.

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