As recently as 10 years ago, if you were a grandparent in Pennsylvania and wanted to gain custody of your grandchildren for their own good, it was much simpler to do so. Family bloodlines and the existing family relationship were usually enough to allow grandparents to take custody of grandchildren if it was clear that their current parental situation was harmful.
These days things are not quite so simple and fast. Thanks to changes in the laws of civil procedures enacted in 2010 and 2013, grandparents-even when a clear relationship is established-have to jump through many more hoops before custody can be awarded.
Proof Of Care
One of the biggest changes to how grandparent custody works is a matter of parenting. In the past, if grandparents were only occasional visitors to the grandchild, but realized the family situation was getting bad, it might still be possible to get custody of the grandchildren and put them into a better environment.
Today, there is a requirement known as "loco parentis," which means that the grandparents are, in some capacity, already acting as parents to the child. If that requirement hasn't been met, there are other conditions that may apply that will still allow for a granting of custody.
Having an established relationship with the grandchild is another important requirement. This relationship must have either occurred with the consent of a parent, or by order of the court in cases where grandparents have filed for visitation rights. There is also a requirement that the grandparents have already assumed-or are willing to assume-responsibility for the caring of the grandchildren.
In addition to the established relationship, one of three possible requirements has to be in place before grandparents will be considered for custody. A child must be shown to be either a dependent, or to have been in the care of the grandparents already for at least one year, or at risk from neglect, abuse or other hazards if custody remains with the parents.
Passing The Test
There is also an evaluation that takes place now that grandparents wishing for partial custody or visitation rights must pass before any access can be issued. The test includes, among other things, a presentation of proof that actually having visitation rights would be beneficial for the child, as well as proof that granting such visitation rights would not negatively impact the relationship that a child already has with parents.
While these requirements seem very restrictive to grandparents, things are far more complicated in the 21st century when it comes to grandparent/grandchild/parent relationships. Disagreements from lifestyle choices, sexual orientation and even political ideology may all have an impact on parent/grandparent relationships that may cause grandparents to believe a grandchild's welfare is endangered when it is a simple difference of opinion, rather than a genuine threat to a grandchild's welfare.
Because of the complexity of these modern, 21st century relationships, it's important to consult with a family law lawyer if you are seriously thinking about taking the steps for a more legally recognized form of custody.