When a child is born, the parents of the child are instilled with a constitutional right to custody and parenting as he/she sees fit that, in general, cannot be overturned by other individuals, even grandparents. When a child is adopted, the adoptive parents obtain these same constitutional rights. This means that legally, grandparents have very limited rights to their grandchildren. In fact, a grandparent’s rights are similar to any unrelated third party. With this noted, this does not mean a grandparent cannot step in to assert custody rights.
Rather, said rights must be done in a very specific and strategic manner. In general, there are two ways that a grandparent can assert custody rights to a child:
1. If there is an ongoing child custody dispute in the courts between the parents and you, as the grandparent has had a significant relationship with the child, then you may be able to file a Motion to Intervene. This motion permits you, as the grandparent, to raise a flag to the court and assert that you too have things to say about the child. For example, the child spends every weekend with you. The Court not only would not deny this information from the grandparent but actually, wants to know and involve the grandparent to ensure the best interests of the child is cared for.
2. The next path is if the parents can be shown to be unfit to parent because of abandoning, abusing, or other abdicating their parental rights to the minor child. This is actually a claim that could be brought by any third party that has a significant relationship but often is most claimed by the grandparents because they have, to some extent, been involved with the minor child on a regular basis. Now please note, this is not just to get a few hours on Sunday afternoon with the child because the parents seem to not involve the grandparents on a regular basis; rather, these avenues for relief are when there is a threat to the child’s welfare serious enough for the Court’s involvement and concern.
To better address how you, as the grandparent, can make sure your grandchild is cared for, please talk with a family law attorney in your community. Although limited, there are avenues for relief for grandparents.