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What is Grandparent Child Custody?

By Daphne Mallory
Updated May 16, 2024
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Grandparent child custody refers to the rights of grandparents granted by statutes in some regions to petition a court to award custody of their grandchildren. Whether or not the court awards custody, grandparents may in general petition a court order to grant visitation rights, so long as there are statutes that protect those rights. National laws often protect the rights of the parents to care for their children, and asking for grandparent child custody has been deemed by many courts as an infringement of those rights. At the same time, there are factors that might lead to courts awarding child custody to grandparents, such as the capability of the parents versus the grandparents to meet the needs of the child, the death of one or more parents, and evidence of abuse by the parent. It’s possible for grandparents to gain custody of their grandchildren if the regional statues are met that allow grandparent child custody rights and a court determines that it’s in the best interest of the child to award custody to the grandparents.

Before a court can award grandparent child custody rights, it has to consider the relationship of the child to the parents. The courts often presume that the parents should retain custody unless the grandparents can prove that it’s not in the best interest of the child to do so. The test is whether the parent is fit or unfit to parent. For example, a grandparent can show evidence of a parent’s continuous neglect, such as a leaving a young child alone and unsupervised in an apartment to go to work. A court in that case may award custody to the grandparent because it would not be in the best interest of the child to remain in the custody of a neglectful parent.

Some regional laws have been found to violate national laws, such as the United States Constitution. In a case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2000, Troxel v. Granville, the court found that a statute pertaining to grandparent child custody and visitation rights passed in the state of Washington violated the parents’ due process to rear their children without interference. The result has led to modification of some laws, which often limited the grandparents’ custody rights but retained their visitation rights.

Grandparents seeking custody rights in the United States often have to verify that the laws they are relying upon to seek those rights have been found to be constitutional, or they take their chances. Family law attorneys must often check laws to see whether they have been revised or if there are new laws that impact the custody rights of their clients. It’s important to do so because grandparent child custody rights are subject to current regional laws.

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