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Grandparents' rights may be a struggle

There are many obstacles in front of grandparents' rights and those seeking physical custody of their grandchildren. Pennsylvania courts have long recognized parents' fundamental constitutional right to raise their children as they believe is appropriate and without the involvement of anyone else.

Two fit parents can decide or object to the role that a grandparent can play in the child's life. In other words, married or divorced parents can agree on the amount of time that their children have with their grandparents or their visitation rights and their relationship with grandchildren.

Pennsylvania's custody law provides some ground for grandparents to petition for primary or partial custody. These include a deceased parent, the parents' involvement in divorce proceedings, parents who were separated, but not divorced, for at least six months and the child lived with a grandparent for at least 12 months and was removed from that home by the parents.

The law became even more difficult with the addition of a strict deadline in cases where the grandchild lived with the grandparent and removed by a parent. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court removed a means in which grandparents petitioned a court for partial custody when the parents were separated for six months, but not divorced.

The Court found that there was no data supporting the conclusion that a six-month separation had the same negative impact as divorce proceedings on a child's physical and emotional harm. It invalidated this six-month provision as being unconstitutional.

This provides more difficulties for grandparents seeking custody when the children's parents choose not to marry. The grounds for petitioning for custody may be more favorable for grandparents when their children are involved in a divorce case.

Courts have acknowledge the government's interest in assuring the well-being, health and safety of children. Grandparents seeking custody rights should seek legal assistance to explore their options and help assure the best interests of the child.

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, "Grandparents' rights in child custody getting more difficult to pursue," John A. Zurzola, Nov. 23, 2016

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