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What are the rules for grandparents' rights in Pennsylvania?

Did you know that grandparents in Pennsylvania can actually be granted child custody rights? Traditionally, if both parents had custody of the child, family law did not provide protection for grandparents and other relatives. Now, however, legal provisions enacted in the past decade offer additional legal options for relatives who have been kept away from their loved ones.

What are the legal underpinnings of grandparents' rights?

The court generally makes its custody decision under the mantra of "whatever is in the best interest of the child." These may include physical, emotional, social and mental well-being. Judges consider the nature of the relationship that has developed between the child and the grandparent. Of course, courts prefer to have biological parents involved in the process, and they will always ensure that the grandparents' visitation rights do not interfere with the relationship between the child and biological parents.

Under what circumstances can I seek visitation or custody?

Pennsylvania law allows for grandparents' rights to be considered when one of the birth parents is deceased, among other reasons. If the child has lived with the grandparent continuously for a year and was then taken away by a biological parent, grandparents may seek visitation. Finally, if the parents have divorced or been split up for six months or more -- no matter whether they were ever married -- grandparents can seek legal visitation.

What should I do if I am seeking to exercise my grandparents' rights in a custody matter?

No matter whether you are pursuing full legal and physical custody of a grandchild or you simply want a court order allowing you to spend some time with your loved one, you need the support of a qualified attorney. Grandparents' rights are still relatively new in our court system, which means that they require interpretation and care. With the right legal team, you and the child's biological parents can achieve a positive outcome that truly serves the best interest of the child.

Source: Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania, "Grandparents' Rights in Pennsylvania," accessed Aug. 20, 2015

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