Central PA Premier Family Law Firm

New Legislation Broadens Standing for Nonparents to Seek Custody

There can be a number of life events that give rise to a parent's inability to care for their children: a serious medical condition, debilitating accident, or divorce proceeding.

The opioid addiction that is seemingly plaguing many individuals across the state of Pennsylvania and the nation is another devastating crisis that has left many children without a parent to care for them.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 individuals fatally overdose every single day on prescription pain killers such as opioids and fentanyl in the United States.

Sadly, when so many children are left without a guardian, grandparents, relatives or friends often step in and assume the parental duties.

Unfortunately, in the past, third-parties who took over primary caregiving responsibilities from either biological or adoptive parents often found themselves without the ability to seek custody. The law only allowed individuals to seek custody who had "standing." Sadly, grandparents did not. They had to fight hard to establish what was plainly obvious -- until now.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently signed into law Senate Bill 844 which stipulates that third parties, including grandparents, are now given the right to seek “any form of physical custody or legal custody” of children in their care when the biological or adoptive parents are absent.

When is custody awarded?

Those seeking to establish custody under this new law must meet certain criteria. The law states that they must demonstrate in clear and convincing evidence the following:

  1. The individual must be willing to take over the responsibility of the child.
  2. The individual must have a substantial, sustained and sincere interest in the wellbeing of the child. In order to determine whether the applicant satisfies this criterion, the court could consider the nature, quality, extent and length of the relationship the applicant has in the child’s life.
  3. Neither of the child’s parents can care for the child nor have any control over the child.

Partial custody for grandparents

The new law has also “cleaned up” legal issues with grandparent rights. Today, the new law allows grandparents and great-grandparents the ability to apply for partial physical custody of their grandchildren. Courts are authorized to grant partial and supervised physical custody if the grandparent’s relationship with the child began with the consent of the parent or via a court order.

With unanimous support in both the state Senate and House, lawmakers hope that the new law will provide an opportunity for more children to grow up in environments where they are loved and feel secure, regardless of whether the biological or adoptive parents are in the picture.