What happens when a grandparent realizes his or her son or daughter is not a good parent? What happens when young parents die tragically and leave children behind? What if the couple is divorced with young children and the custodial parent passes away and the non-custodial parent wants to fight for custody? These are all situations where grandparents may want to fight for custody of their grandchildren.
Even in the worst of situations, this may seem like a good move, but unless there is a legitimate reason why the grandparents should be granted custody, the court does not give grandparents any special consideration, even though they are actual family members. Parents rights come first, unless, as we said previously, there is a legitimate danger or concern in the way the child is being raised.
Concerns Do Not Always Warrant Custody
Parenting styles have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. What was once considered “normal” discipline is now grounds for child abuse. Famous athletes and stars, such as Adrian Peterson, have been brought before the courts and charged with child abuse for disciplining their children in the same manner in which they were disciplined.
With such a dramatic change in the perception of what is and what is not acceptable in terms of parenting technique, it is very understandable why some grandparents may not simply approve of the way their grandchildren are being raised. However, not agreeing with a parenting style and the children actually being at risk or in danger are entirely different situations.
There are, however, certain conditions that may warrant an actual change in custody, though. Some of these are:
- Abandonment – is the child being left alone for unreasonable amounts of time or has the parent altogether abandoned taking care of the child?
- Emotional Abuse – at times, this can be more damaging to a child than physical abuse simply because it may take much longer to realize it is happening. This may also be something that is very tough to prove; it may take some type of therapy or counseling to reveal the level of abuse the child is being subject to.
- Neglect – just because the parents are there does not mean they are taking care of the child. Are the parents taking an active role in the child’s schooling? Are they “there” emotionally for the child? Again, this may not be very easy to prove and may require further investigation before it can be brought before the court.
- Physical Abuse – the case of Adrian Peterson is a perfect example of physical abuse. He did not think he was abusing his child but in the eyes of the court, he was. Physical abuse is not always obvious and it may not even be a malicious act by the parent; it is simply what they think is acceptable.
- Sexual Abuse or Child Exploitation – this is just a horrific situation and one that is often difficult to uncover simply because the children are living in fear and/or embarrassment.
- Substance Abuse – parents do not necessarily have to be subjecting their child to drug use for this to be the case. While substance abuse does not necessarily offer grounds to lose custody, how this problem affects the child will be taken into consideration. Something else to consider is a mother that is abusing drugs or alcohol while pregnant. Each state has its own laws about this specific topic, so consult with a family law attorney to see if your specific situation falls within the states guidelines for substance abuse.
In addition to the reasons mentioned above, there are several other “settings” that may result in the grandparent having custody of the grandchildren. Some of these are voluntary, while other situations will involve the local authorities.
Parents Give Up Control of their Children
Some of you may read this and wonder how or why anyone would actually give up physical custody of their children to their own parents. Honestly, some people just realize they are not meant to raise children and give their own parents the option of doing it so the children remain in the family. This does not necessarily mean they are no longer active in their children’s lives; it is just that they cannot handle the everyday responsibility of being a parent.
An example of this would be an underage parent that may not be emotionally or financially able to care for the child. In some cases, this is meant to be a temporary cure to get the parent(s) through a rough patch and they fully expect to regain custody of the children when their situation improves. As the grandparent, though, you may need some type of legal agreement that allows you to properly “parent” the children involved.
Children are Taken Away from Parents
Some of the reasons this may happen were touched on above. In most cases, the actual removal will happen by local authorities, such as the police or social services. For example, there is a drug bust and children are found to live in the home of the individuals being arrested. These children would obviously be removed from this situation. Due to a law that was passed almost a decade ago in the United States, adult relatives would be contacted in an effort to have the children placed.
There are numerous other reasons the children may be removed from the home, some of which were mentioned in the bullet points at the top of this article. In these cases, the grandparents are often one of the first relatives contacted, as long as their information is available to the authorities. As a grandparent, if you suspect something such as this is the case, make sure you are known to the neighbors and they have your contact information just in case the authorities need it.
Initiating a Custody Suit for Your Grandchildren
What can you do when the authorities are unaware of a situation you deem to be dangerous to the children? What if social services has not responded and the children are still in danger, at least in your eyes? It would not be the first time grandparents sued for custody of their grandchildren, but it will not be easy to win the case, especially if local authorities have already investigated and found the situation did not warrant removal of the children from the current environment.
In addition, even if the grandparents are able to prove to the court the children should be removed from their current home, custody is not automatically granted to the grandparents. They would still need to prove to the court that the child being with them is in the best interests of the children. In situations such as this, hostilities may exist between the parents and grandparents, which can present problems for the children as they can get caught in the middle of the family problems.
Is Grandparent Custody Permanent?
In most cases, this answer is going to be no. In cases where the parents voluntarily give up custody, the parents fully expect to regain custody once they get through their hardship. In cases where the children are removed due to drug or alcohol problems, the parent may request to regain custody once he or she has gone through a program and can prove he or she is now living a “clean” life as well as being able to provide for the child.
As a grandparent it is extremely important that you have legal custody of the children, especially if you wish to keep them through adulthood. Without the proper documentation from the courts, your position becomes much weaker if the parents want to regain custody of their children.