In an ideal situation, a child's parents are able to provide a loving environment and proper care. Unfortunately, there are times when this is not possible and grandparents may want to know their options for helping out.
The process for a grandparent to gain any type of legally recognized custody can be complex. Consulting an experienced attorney in your area can help you understand your options.
When grandparents may get custody
Generally, courts prefer children to remain in their parents' custody. If the court decides to terminate one parent's rights, it will generally leave the children in the custody of the other parent. Only if that parent is also unfit does the court look further. In such an event, close relatives, such as grandparents, do usually get preference.
Some circumstances that can lead to parents losing custody include child abuse, severe neglect or abandonment. Parents can also lose custody if they go to jail or suffer substance addiction that prevents them from parenting safely. Sometimes a parent's mental illness can also result in the loss of custody if that parent does not manage the illness so as to be capable of parenting. In some cases, the parents may prefer the grandparents to raise their children for reasons such as physical incapacity.
Types of custody
Sometimes, temporary custody can be the best option to allow grandparents to care for their grandchildren without closing the door on the possibility of parents regaining custody. This can happen through an agreement with the parents, who may know this arrangement would be in the children's best interests. In other situations, the court may deem the child in danger and grant immediate temporary custody, then hold a hearing to appoint a temporary guardian while the court decides whether to terminate the parents' rights or take other measures.
Grandparents may be able to seek permanent legal custody, or guardianship, if parental rights are terminated. This will mean the full range of parental rights and responsibilities, including making major decisions on behalf of the children. A proceeding to obtain legal custody will typically include an extensive investigation to ensure the grandparents can parent the child adequately.