A 2014 study reported that almost eight million children live in a grand family in which a grandparent lives in the same household with their children and grandchildren. Approximately three million grandparents provide for and are responsible for the everyday needs of their grandchildren who live with them. Some households have informal child custody arrangements without court orders. Do grandparents have custody rights? Most states allow only for visitation, but in Maryland grandparents can obtain custody under limited circumstances.
What are the Reasons for Grandparent Custody Applications?
The traditional atomic family has changed to variations of this arrangement. Parents may go through divorce and remarry. Parents may never marry each other. Single parenting is a fact of life. Grandparents are in greater numbers as we live longer.
There are also new changes in any household with children. The opioid crisis evolved from prescription medicines for pain. Drug and alcohol dependency can ruin a household dynamic. Statistically, there are more instances of lost parenting custody from dependencies and an increase in grandparents offering to raise grandchildren in their homes.
A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that kinship caregivers such as grandparents are critical to replacing parents who traumatize their children. Raising a child requires familiarity and love, usually from a blood relation.
Substance dependency is one of many dangers to children addressed in a custody petition. There is child neglect. There is physical and emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
A grandparent’s love and affection are only part of the proof needed for grandparental custody.
What are the Differences between Visitation and Custody?
Nearly every state provides for grandparents’ visitation with their grandchildren. Custody is another matter.
Visitation allows a grandparent to spend time with their grandchild under defined and clear guidelines and rules. The terms of visitation can include days, hours, and how the visitation is conducted. Grandparental visitation is designed to preserve the family relationship between the generations.
Custody is far more than visitation.
In Maryland, there are two categories of custody: legal custody, in which the child’s health and welfare decisions are left to the custodian; and physical custody, providing day-to-day responsibilities. The court may decide to combine the two types of custody.
Custody under a court order usually is in place except if custody is for a limited time or until the court decides otherwise.
One hallmark of custody is the presumption that the natural parents or adoptive parents should have full custody of their children.
What are the Requirements of a Custody Petition in Maryland?
The custody petition is only the start of the process. A grandparent should know that filing the petition can fracture relationships with their children. There are limited exceptions, such as when the parent has a health situation that prevents them from continuing as the custodian.
Once starting on the road to grandparental custody, there are steep hills to climb to convince the court to act.
The petition to the court should include pertinent facts such as the following:
- The child’s age, especially when the grandparent has already assumed care responsibilities, is significant.
- How much time has the child been away from their parents, and under what circumstances?
- Has the parent taken any steps to resume custody responsibilities?
- Looking to the emotional impacts of a custody case and implications, how strong is the grandparent-grandchild emotional bond?
- Has the parent exhibited any act or failed in any act evidencing a committed desire to regain or resume custody?
- Because of any age discrepancy between the grandparent and the parent, are there any physical challenges for a grandparent custodian?
- Is the parental home safe for the grandchild?
- Has the grandparent and/or the parent engaged in any professional therapy addressing the child’s welfare and best interests or changing the custody situation?
If neglect or abuse is alleged, this can be by the parent or another adult in the house where the parent will not step in and prevent the abuse. These other adults may be companions or substitute providers. They are not immediate kin to the child.
Instances of a custodial parent with mental illness who is not in treatment or taking their medication can constitute a home from which the child should be removed and given to another caregiver. Social Services agencies may consider grandparents’ homes or those of grown adult children or agencies or foster care.
How can Grandparents Expect the Court to Respond?
The grandparent must provide evidence to show their child, the parent, is no longer suitable to have custody and their home is the best option.
This is a difficult task ordinarily and even more so when a loving grandparent must choose between leaving their grandchild with their child or asking a court to intervene and physically remove the grandchild from their home with their parent and place them in the grandparent’s custody.
The court will closely examine your petition and evidence. It will look to see any missing information. You need the court to be open to hearing your case and arguments.
Your grandchild’s best interests deserve your best efforts at all times and especially in a custody petition.
Lawyers can Successfully Guide a Grandparent Seeking Custody
You can file the petition yourself. The process is difficult and emotional. You may be hesitant to state the facts and explain your case.
There is another variable in the process. The court can and often does ask questions of the parties that are intended to tease out information that none of the parties wants to share. Families sometimes keep secrets because if the facts were known, there might be embarrassment or shame or anger to follow.
Experienced and professional lawyers knowledgeable in family law issues can bring you closer to achieving your goal. Lawyers in this area of the law bring their legal careers and achievements with them when they go to court.
These lawyers also represent another viewpoint that clarify and summarize what has to be alleged and proved to give the court the information it needs and requires.
Also, there may be a stop to the proceedings at some point. Relationships can be repaired and responsibilities clearly defined.
The court may ask for psychologic evaluations of the parties and the child. Or the court may suggest a mediation process to de-traumatize the situation.
Each grandparental custody case has its own set of facts along with a child or children that can be so different that one child in the custody of the parent may or may not want their grandparent to have custody instead, whereas the other child may want the opposite. The ages of the children and their level of education are some of the factors influencing their preferences. A family lawyer with experience and discernment can be invaluable in navigating the process so that the grandparent achieves the result they are seeking.
Towson Family Law Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Grandparents Understand and Defend Their Rights
If you are the grandparents of children whose parents are divorced, you may have questions or issues about your access to the children or whether they would be better off in your care. The Towson family law lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC can provide the information and compassionate support you need. Our team will defend your legal rights. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.