If you are the primary caregiver for a grandchild, you may have already noticed that grandparent’s rights are not widely known and are not the same in every state. If you are looking for the best ways to help raise your grandchild or want to obtain grandparent’s custody, then you need to do your homework.
You may want to take a look at local (Area Agency on Aging) meetings or workshops, Senior Centers or Child Welfare agencies for help and information on grandparent’s rights. Many of these organizations are aware of issues between grandparents, parents, and grandchildren regarding grandparents’ custody and have information. Another source of information is local law libraries or universities. You can ask for advice and look up the laws that may affect you. These may also be good places to find out if your court system has services or programs that allow you to petition or apply for a legal relationship with your grandchildren without the aid of an attorney.
If you can afford it, the best place to get legal advice concerning grandparent’s rights if from a family law attorney. While it can seem intimidating to select a lawyer, the state bar association can be of assistance in helping you to locate a family law attorney with experience near you. There are also free or low-cost services through legal aid clinics and university law clinics that may be worth looking into and some law firms offer “pro bono” or free services. It certainly never hurts to ask and see what kind of help you can get!
In certain cases, the parent may be cooperative and want to help the grandparent with being able to make decisions for the grandchild. If this is the case, then a Power of Attorney might just be what you need. A power of attorney will give the grandparents the right and ability to enroll the child in school or seek medical care etc. These can also be very useful when the parent is called away for active duty in the military or similar situations. Grandparents as parents can be a temporary situation and may help their grandchildren and their parents. Of course, the parents do not lose any rights and can revoke the power of attorney whenever they want, so it is best used in situations where there is a working relationship between the grandparent and parent.
If there is abuse or neglect involved in the situation between parent and child, then the grandparents need to be sure that anything like that is documented and recorded. You can start by reporting any activity like this to the Department of Social Services so that they can investigate. Their findings can help with grandparent’s custody petitions to the court. In cases like this where the parent is unfit, the court leaves the burden of proof to the grandparents. This is why you will need documentation and witnesses whenever possible.
If the parents are in agreement that the grandparents have custody of the children, then it will still need to go through the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court to be awarded. While each case is unique and has its own set of circumstances, grandparent’s rights are best represented by a lawyer. However, if you cannot afford an attorney, then you need to be careful about how you fill out any forms. Find a person or organization that has the legal authority to help you and is certified to do so. Skipping this step may cause a grandparent’s custody request to be thrown out.