Recent Changes to Custody Laws in PA
Children face very difficult situations when their parents are not able to physically or emotionally care for them. This can be for a number of reasons, including death, imprisonment, or divorce or separation. When this occurs, Grandparents are able to provide parental care and support to their grandchildren through Grandparent custody.
Although parents have a fundamental right to make decisions regarding the care and welfare of their children, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has recognized the important role that Grandparents play in the care and custody of children in certain scenarios.
Grandparents Standing for Full Custody
Under state law (source), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gives Grandparents the right to file for physical and/or legal custody of their grandchildren in certain circumstances.
For this to occur, the grandparent(s) must meet these four requirements:
- They do not stand in the place of a parent (in loco parentis) to the child.
- Their relationship started with a parent’s consent or under court order.
- They are willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- And one of the following conditions applies: 1) The child is determined to be a dependent, 2) is at risk of harm (due to parental abuse, neglect, or drug or alcohol abuse), or 3) has lived with the grandparents for 12 consecutive months.
Grandparents Standing for Partial Custody
In addition to full custody, grandparents can file for partial custody or supervised physical custody under Commonwealth law (source). To get standing, the circumstances must include:
- If the child’s parent is deceased.
- If the child’s parents have been separated for 6 months and are in the process of getting a divorce.
- If the child has resided with the grandparents for 12 consecutive months, and was removed from the home by his/her parents.
Supreme Court Decision on Partial Custody
In a decision handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2016, the section on parents being separated for 6 months was severed from the state law. This means that Grandparents no longer have standing for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody if the married parents of the child have separated for 6 months. The Court based its decision on the fact that parents who were married and separated, and who mutually agreed to prevent Grandparents from seeing the children could do so against Grandparent’s wishes to have partial custody of the children. (source)
The Court held that intact families who separate for 6 months does not automatically confer standing on Grandparents to file for partial custody. This further limits Grandparent standing in custody cases. It also does not address the rights of Grandparents standing in cases where the parents were not married or intact. The Legislature will likely be addressing this matter soon.