By Kathleen A. Piperno
Approximately 2.6 million children are being raised by grandparents in the United States and that number continues to rise. In Pennsylvania, more than 100,000 children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives.
Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. As of the publishing of this blog, thousands of residents have died from drug overdoses, thereby forcing grandparents to raise grandchildren.
This epidemic and its aftermath have caused a strain on healthcare services, law enforcement agencies, children, and their families. Grandparents have stepped in to provide hope, a safe environment and secure homes in order to replace trauma.
When seeking custody, grandparents first have to overcome the hurdle of standing to file for custody in court. Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, grandparents/great-grandparents have standing if any of the following situations have occurred:
- The parent of the grandchild is deceased.
- Where the relationship between the grandchild and grandparent/great-grandparent began with the consent of a parent or under a court order, and the parents have commenced a custody proceeding or the parents do not agree as to whether the grandparents/great-grandparents should have custody.
- Where the grandchild has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent/great-grandparent.
- The child has been determined by the court to be dependent.
- The child is at risk due to substance abuse by the parent or the parent has been deemed incapacitated.
- The grandparent/great-grandparent stands in loco parentis to the child, which means the grandparent/great-grandparent has been acting as the child’s parent for a significant amount of time.
The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act provides grandparents with easy access to information about the resources that are available, with knowledge designed to help grandparents that are raising grandchildren, and to create a task force for the support of grandparents raising grandchildren.
This task force will help grandparents with the following:
- Navigation of their grandchildren’s school systems.
- Planning for the grandchildren’s future.
- Assisting with social networks and support networks.
- Learning about social media and computer skills.
- Addressing the educational needs of the children.
- Addressing the children’s mental health needs caused by trauma, violence, homelessness, child abuse, child neglect and/or child sexual abuse.
The reality is that grandparents do have clearly defined rights in Pennsylvania when it comes to the custody and visitation of their grandchildren. The family law and divorce attorneys at Raffaele Puppio in Delaware County can provide advice and counsel to grandparents to help them ensure they are not improperly left out of the process. To learn more, contact our attorneys today.
Kathleen Piperno is a Partner with Raffaele Puppio. She practices exclusively in Family Law, including child support, custody, divorce, equitable distribution, protection from abuse, termination of parental rights, and adoption.