PA Grandparents' Rights Lawyers
Pennsylvania recognizes the rights of PA grandparents to seek visitation, partial physical custody, or primary physical custody of their minor grandchild or grandchildren. The grandparents must prove that the requested custody would be in the best interests of the minor grandchild or grand kids and would not interfere with the relationship between the parent and the minor child.
Pennsylvania Grandparents' Partial Custody and Visitation
After the United States Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville was decided, some lawyers have argued on behalf of their clients that it is unconstitutional for a state family court judge to award even partial custody or visitation to grandparents if the parent disagrees with the grandparents' request for partial custody or visitation. Florida and some other states that have directly confronted the issue have determined that it is unconstitutional to force a fit parent to be compelled to allow contact with their minor children's grandparents. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the case of Hiller v. Fausey has ruled that the Pennsylvania Grandparent Visitation Statutes are constitutional and are a means to protect the emotional well-being of children who have been estranged from their grandparents.
Under Pennsylvania common law, a grandparent also has the right to seek custody rights of their minor grandchildren if the grandparents were acting in loco parentis to the grandchildren or in other words acted as their parents in providing the grandchildren's financial, educational and emotional support. There is no right to compel grandparent partial custody or visitation if the parents are residing together in an intact marriage.
Pennsylvania Grandparent Custody Laws
Under section 5324 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code, grandparents have the right to sue for primary custody of their minor grandchildren. While any grandparent may file a Complaint for Custody, in a case contested by the biological parents, a grandparent has strict evidentiary burdens that must be proven if the trial court judge is going to award primary custody to the grandparents. As preliminary matters, the grandparent who is not deemed in loco parentis to the child must prove (1) that the relationship with the grandchildren began with the consent of the parent or pursuant to an order of court; (2) that the grandparent assumes or is willing to assume responsibilty for the child; and (3) that the grandchildren either (a) resided with the grandparents for at least 12 months where the grandparents acted like the grandchildren's parents (generally requires that the parent not also reside in the house); (b) that the grandchildren have been declared dependent due to parental abuse or neglect; or (c) that the grandparents believe that the grandchildren are substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol issues.
Even if the above requirements are met, the trial court judge must still determine what is in the children's best interests applying a weighted determination in favor of the biological parents. In other words, the court must find that it is not in the best interests of the minor children to be in the custody of their parents and that it is in the best interests of the minor children to be in the custody of the grandparents.
Standing for Partial Physical Custody and Supervised Physical Custody for Grandparents
23 Pa. C.S. Section 5325 defines the situations (in addition to those defined in Section 5324) when Grandparents can file an action for partial physical or supervised physical custody. Generally, grandparents can seek partial custody or visitation of their minor grandchildren in one of three circumstances: (1) if either of the child's or children's parents are deceased; (2) if the parents have been separated for at least six months or have commenced divorce proceedings; or (3) the grandchildren have resided with the grandparents for more than 12 months and then were removed from the home.
It is not easy an easy task for grandparents to be awarded primary physical custody if the biological parents contest the award of custody to the grandparent. Attorney Vari has been successful in litigating cases in several Western Pennsylvania counties where grandparents have been awarded primary custody. On the other hand, Attorney Vari has also been successful in having grandparent primary custody cases dismissed when the grandparents did not meet the evidentiary requirements for the award of primary custody.
A hotly contested case involving grandparents' primary custody rights evolved through the Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas. In the case of K.B., II, K.B. and B.B. v. C.B.F., the Armstrong County trial court awarded primary physical custody of a minor child to his paternal grandparents even though the court found the child's mother to be a fit parent. Attorney Lisa Vari was retained to represent the mother in her appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. In the case argued before the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Attorney Lisa Marie Vari argued that only if a parent is declared to be unfit should grandparents have the right to seek primary physical custody of their minor grandchildren. While Attorney Vari was successful in having the mother's primary custody rights restored, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that grandparents have the right to sue parents for primary physical custody of their grandchildren even if the parents are deemed to be fit parents.
On January 2, 2004, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review the Superior Court's ruling on the K.B., II, K.B. and B.B. v. C.B.F. case. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments from both Attorney Lisa Vari and counsel for the grandparents in September of 2004. In November 2005, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed the appeal filed by Attorney Vari as "improvidently granted". It was later learned that the appeal had been improperly granted because Attorney Vari's client, the mother, had won the return of her child from the grandparents at the Superior Court level. It is a true shame that the Court did not have the opportunity to review its prior opinion in the Baxter case and make some necessary changes.
Shared Custody Rights of PA Grandparents
There is no provision in the Pennsylvania statutes for a grandparent to be awarded shared physical custody with a child's parent or parents unless the parent or parents agree to an order of shared physical custody. Grandparents are only permitted to pursue claims for partial custody, visitation, or primary physical custody as stated above.
Grandparents' Rights Relating to Adoption and Juvenile Court Actions
A grandparent of a child who has been abused or neglected by the child's parent or parents can seek a number of different types of relief in the juvenile courts. These rights include the right to be a placement option for so long as the parent remains unfit, the right to seek custody of the grandchild (which would extend even beyond a parent's period of unfitness), or if the juvenile court seeks to terminate the parents' rights the grandparent can seek to adopt the minor grandchild. The most crucial factor for a grandparent whose grandchild is involved in juvenile court or adoption proceedings is to act promptly to obtain an attorney familiar with grandparents' rights. The child welfare agency, the judge, and the attorneys for the child and parents are not there to advocate your rights, you must take the appropriate action quickly.
Grandparents also have the right to seek to adopt their minor grandchildren even if the grandchildren have not been declared dependent or have an active case with the child welfare agency. This situation generally involves when a grandparent has had custody of the grandchildren through a voluntary agreement with the parent or a custody order and the grandparent wishes to secure the relationship for the future. It should be remembered that even if a grandparent has had custody of a grandchild for a significant period of time, the parent may seek modification of the custody arrangement and seek the return of the child into the parent's care. Given that the parent is afforded a weighted determination in their favor, grandparents may wish to seek to prevent the disruption of the child's life in the future and request the court to terminate the parents' rights and to adopt their grandchildren.
Pennsylvania Grandparent Visitation, Custody, or Adoption Issues?
If you are a grandparent seeking primary custody, partial custody, visitation, or adoption rights with your minor grand kids who have resided in PA for at least six months or if you are a mother or father who has been sued by your minor children's grandparents for primary physical custody, partial custody, or visitation, call us today at our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-9906, our New Castle office at 724-436-5500, Hermitage at 724-300-1717 or toll-free at 855-LISA-VARI (855-547-2827) or send us an e-mail. Our Pittsburgh office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township, New Castle and Hermitage offices are open by appointment only.
Appointments are also available in Robinson Township, Mt. Lebanon (South Hills Village Mall area) and Pleasant Hills (Century III Mall area). Ask the secretary scheduling your appointment for details including appointment locations.
Our Pennsylvania grandparents' rights attorneys and staff regularly assist clients with Allegheny County grandparent custody rights, Beaver County grandparent custody rights, Butler County grandparent custody rights, Lawrence County grandparent custody rights, Mercer County grandparent custody rights, Washington County grandparent custody rights, and Westmoreland County grandparent custody rights cases. To learn more about each county's procedures, click on the following names: Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Lawerence County, Mercer County, Washington County and Westmoreland County.
Our team of Pittsburgh grandparents' rights lawyers accept cases from Armstrong County, Fayette County, Greene County, Indiana County and Somerset County on a case-by-case basis.
Click here to read notable Pennsylvania grandparents' rights cases.