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Grandparent Visitation Rights Attorneys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

There isn't a federal grandparent visitation law. As a result, grandparent visitation laws vary from one state to another. However, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed grandparent visitation rights in the Troxel v. Granville case. The Troxel case upheld the constitutionality of a broad Washington grandparent visitation law. However, Troxel also set guidelines for when courts should award grandparent visitation and when they shouldn't. In Troxel, it was said that grandparent visitation shouldn't interfere with a parent's rights. A fit and proper parent is presumed to be acting in a child's best interests. If a stable parent opposes grandparent visitation, the Troxel case requires a court to consider the objections of the parents. Remember, parental right to raise a child is has its basis in the U.S. Constitution, which protects a parents’ rights to make educational, medical, and even visitation decisions on a child's behalf. Typically, if a parent doesn't want a child to visit with a certain relative or other person, the parent's wishes will control. However, in some families, grandparents play a special role in their grandchildren's lives, even though grandparent's legal rights will almost always be secondary to the rights of the parents’ rights.

Grandparent Visitation Rights in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Grandparent Visitation Act has withstood constitutional challenges. In Pennsylvania, a grandparent can seek visitation (also called partial custody) if the child's nuclear family unit is broken. Specifically, a grandparent can file an action for partial custody when:

  1. the child's parent(s) is deceased

  2. the child's parents have been separated for at least six months or have filed a divorce or separation action, or

  3. the child has resided with the grandparent for at least 12 months.

The determination has a further threshold in order assert the conditional rights of grandparents. Even if the above factors are present, the grandparent must demonstrate that partial custody or visitation serves the grandchild's best interests and does not interfere with the parental relationships then present.

In one Pennsylvania case, a set of maternal grandparents was awarded partial custody of their grandchildren. The children's parents had divorced and the divorce court awarded primary physical custody of the children to the children's mother. During the ensuing years, the children spent a significant amount of time with their maternal grandparents. Tragically, the children's mother was killed in a car accident, and the maternal grandparents sought partial custody. The court granted the grandparents' request even though the children's father objected to visitation. The court reasoned that the grandparents had a strong bond with their grandchildren and the father's parent-child relationship would not be harmed by the grandparents' weekend visits.

Suppose, however, whether a paternal grandmother's visitation request could be denied since the grandmother had spent little time with the child and had occasionally even refused visits. The child's parent and the paternal grandmother had a very stormy relationship. The child's father had shot the mother and was prevented from any contact with the child as a result, and the grandmother wanted to fill that role. In denying any grandparent visitation, the court reasoned that the grandmother provided little benefit to the child and negatively affected the child's mother. Therefore, just because there is a blood relationship does not resolve, since it is not the status; but rather, the conduct of the grandparents that takes the court’s primary concern.

Further, a grandparent cannot seek visitation if a child's parents have separated or divorced and then reconcile. Also, A court will not award grandparent visitation if the parent-child relationship is severely harmed by the visits.

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When Can a Grandparent Obtain Custody of A Grandchild?

In some circumstances, a grandparent may feel compelled to seek custody of a child who is being neglected or abused by a parent. Pennsylvania law sets forth the circumstances when a grandparent can file an action for custody. Specifically, a grandparent can seek custody when:

  1. the grandparent has a relationship with the child that was encouraged by the child's parent or a result of a court order

  2. the grandparent presently assumes custody of the child or is willing to assume custody, and

  3. one of the additional conditions is met; which are that, the child is a dependent child under the age of 18, the child is at a substantial risk of parental neglect, abuse or drug and alcohol abuse, and the child has lived with the grandparent for at least 12 consecutive months.

Even if the grandparent meets the above criteria, a court must determine that awarding custody to a grandparent serves the child's best interests. Some of the factors a judge will consider when evaluating a child's best interests, may include the consideration of the child's contact with the grandparent prior to the custody filing and whether awarding grandparent custody interferes with any parent-child relationship, and whether awarding grandparent custody meets a child's emotional and physical needs.

Can a Biological Grandparent Obtain Visitation with A Child that Was Placed for Adoption?

A biological grandparent has no standing to seek visitation with a child that has been placed for adoption, unless the adoption is by a blood relative or a stepparent. Yet, even in the case of stepparent adoption, a court may deny grandparent visitation if the visits put a strain on the stepparent-child relationship. Yet, Grandparents can provide stability and support to both grandchildren and their parents. Grandparents have legal standing to pursue visitation under certain circumstances in Pennsylvania. However, a child's best interests will dictate the outcome of a grandparent's request for visitation or custody.

Remember that the status of being a grandparent tends not to be romanticized by the courts in Pennsylvania. This carries with it the same notion of the current reality that the nuclear and traditional family does not tend to exist for matters before the court. It is the issue of conduct. In effect, the court is not considering one’s status in the family organization as much as what have you done with respect to the child’s or the children’s’ best interest; i.e., what was the nature of the relationship of the grandparents prior to their need to be custody.