Grandparent’s Rights to Custody in Pennsylvania

We previously wrote about the rights of grandparents to seek custody of their grandchildren in Pennsylvania. Recently a Judge in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania made a decision that may change the current custody law in Pennsylvania. Judge Harry Smail ruled that the present law that allows for grandparents to seek partial physical custody (the right to take the child away from their parents for brief periods which could be a few hours supervised by the parent to as much as a weekend or more) is unconstitutional. The decision is currently on appeal and, if the Appellate Courts uphold the decision, it could change the rights of grandparents to seek partial custody throughout Pennsylvania. Currently in all parts of Pennsylvania except Westmoreland County the law remains unchanged.

How to Establish Standing for Partial Custody or Visitation as a Grandparent?

Currently custody laws allow grandparents to seek partial custody or visitation of their grandchildren if they have standing. To establish standing for partial custody or visitation the grandparent must show one of the following:

  • (1) that one of the parents of the child is deceased;
  • (2) that the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months;
  • (3) that the child has spent 12 consecutive months with the grandparent.

It is important to note that grandparents have no right to seek partial custody or visitation of children of an intact family where the parents are still together. This is the important part of Judge Smail’s decision. He ruled that it is unconstitutional to treat parents of intact families differently than those who are separated. In the case in question the parents were divorced but both agreed that they did not want the paternal grandparents in their children’s lives. Under the current law the grandparents had a right to ask for partial custody because the parents were no longer together. The Judge found that this is unconstitutional because if the parents were together the grandparents would have had no right to seek child custody.

It is important to note that this decision applies only to grandparents seeking partial child custody under the current statute. The provisions of the statute regarding grandparents seeking sole custody, primary custody and temporary emergency custody in situations where children are at risk are not affected by this decision. In such cases the facts would be different in that the grandparents seeking child custody would either have been acting as a parent for a significant amount of time or would be stepping in to seek sole custody because the children are in some sort of danger.

It is possible that the Appellate Courts will agree with Judge Smail and change the law regarding a grandparent’s right to seek partial custody. It would seem that the most likely outcome would be that the Courts would limit the decision to those cases where both parents do not want the grandparents to have contact with the kids. In a great many cases it is only one of the parents that oppose the grandparent’s visitation so, it is possible, that the Appellate Courts could draw this distinction and not allow standing only when both parents are in agreement.

Contact our Family Lawyers for Experienced Legal Advice

We are passionate about resolving conflict through mediation and working toward collaborative solutions that are in the best interest of all parties, especially children. 

If you or someone you know needs advice pertaining to divorce in Pennsylvania, especially child custody and grandparents rights, we urge you to call us today. We are available to speak with you regarding your matter, provide recommended actions, and help you resolve your matter quickly and fairly. Call us for your free phone consultation at 1-800-615-0115.

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  1. MARJORIE S HIX says:

    BCCYS threatened my husband and I to separate but of course with my handicap iand the car accident. They preyed on my disability. I never got along with grandparents. 5 years of degrading me , my fault , I did everything wrong my daughter was told all the lies and she hated me this is awful.. Then having court appointed attorneys,, unlawful ,fraud, custody taken away from us without us even knowing but one thing they didn't realize about me i woke upI'm I keep every piece of paper and pictures .I became forma pauperis. I have transcripts, documents DVDs pictures all the court order Services certificates that we did in the five years…NOW I KNOW WHY IAM STILL ALIVE family advocate

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