As I have posted recently (see here), I had the great opportunity to lead (perhaps “teach”) a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the National Business Institute (a.k.a. NBI, see here). The subject was “Family Law From A to Z” and I had opportunity to speak on two main topics in particular: Custody and Ethics. I was joined by four other capable attorneys who each had their own topics to present.
Although NBI published the materials, I retain the ownership of the portions I wrote, which I will post here in this blog.
Copied below are the materials I wrote for the section entitled “The Rights of Grandparents and Other Relatives.”
Grandparents’ (and other relatives) rights to have custody of children is governed by 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5324 which states as follows:
The following individuals may file an action under this chapter for any form of physical custody or legal custody:
(1) A parent of the child.
(2) A person who stands in loco parentis to the child.
(3) A grandparent of the child who is not in loco parentis to the child:
(i) whose relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of
the child or under a court order;
(ii) who assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
(iii) when one of the following conditions is met:
(A) the child has been determined to be a dependent child under 42 Pa.C.
S.Ch. 63 (relating to juvenile matters);
(B) the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or
alcohol abuse or incapacity; or
(C) the child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided
with the grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from
the home, and is removed from the home by the parents, in which case the
action must be filed within six months after the removal of the child from
23 Pa.C.S.A. §5325 supplements §5324 and states the following:
In addition to situations set forth in §5324 (relating to standing for any form of physical custody or legal custody), grandparents and great-grandparents may file an action under this chapter for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody in the following situations:
(1) where the parent of the child is deceased, a parent or grandparent of the deceased parent may file an action under this section;
(3) when the child has, for a period of at least 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent or great-grandparent, excluding brief temporary absences of the child from the home, and is removed from the home by the parents, an action must be filed within six months after he removal of the child from the home.
Failure to secure standing serves to bar grandparents from pursing the custody of the child-at-issue. If they do have standing, grandparents may file for custody like a parent can, however, when litigating against a parent, the scales are always tipped heavily toward the biological parent and away from the grandparent. Of course, the best interests of the child are always paramount. When two parents are litigating against one another, the burden of proof is shared equally, however when the case is between a biological parent and a third party (e.g.: a grandparent), the burden of proof is not equally balanced. In this case, the biological parent has a prima facie right to custody which can only be forfeited only if “convincing reasons” appear that the best interests of the child are better met by the third party.
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5324
- 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5325
- Jordan v. Jackson, 876 A.2d 443 (Pa.Super.2005)
- K.B. v. C.B.F., 833 A.2d 767 (Pa.Super.2003)