Has The Recent Change In Grandparent Custody Law Complicated The Custody Process In Pennsylvania?

Last week, we posted about the new change to the custody laws with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in D.P. v. G.J.P.. This opinion overturned the portion of the grandparent custody statute that allowed grandparents to have standing to seek partial custody of their grandchildren in cases when parents were separated for at least six months.

As noted in that post, this decision was made by justices who believed that the current statute was unconstitutional because it treated the parents who were separated differently than parents who resided together. The concurring and dissenting opinions written by Justices Bear and Wecht point out some of the flaws in the majority’s position, namely that two parents, regardless of their marital status can be united in their opinions that the grandparents should or should not be involved in the children’s lives.

However, none of the opinions in this case address the issue that the modern Pennsylvania family often consists of parents who were never married. Although some courts chose to apply the six month rule to parties who had an intact relationship whether they were married or not, the removal of the six month rule from the statute raising a number of new questions. Specifically, does the overturning of the six month rule bar grandparents from ever seeking partial custody in cases when the parents were never married?

As of now, the grandparent statute only allows grandparents to seek custody of their grandchildren in cases where one parent is dead or incapacitated and when the parties have initiated divorce proceedings. This creates a vacuum in instances where the parents may have lived together and been in a relationship for some time, but were never married. The number of individuals who fit this description is ever increasing in the state of Pennsylvania. This decision has placed many ongoing custody cases in a place of flux. This issue will likely find its way to the higher courts soon. However, for the time being individual judges in individual counties will need to make the decision about standing based on the circumstances of each case.

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