Custody Rights of Grandparents


In order to receive legal custody of a grandchild, grandparents must make this request by petitioning the family court in their home town or city. Each state has its own unique set of laws regarding the custody rights of grandparents. Generally, a grandparent may exercise custody of a grandchild in cases where the child's parents are deceased, when the grandchild has lived with the grandparent for a certain amount of time, or in cases of divorce or separation.

Physical Custody

  • A grandparent has the right to petition the courts for physical custody of a grandchild. Physical custody means that the grandchild lives in the grandparent's home, giving the grandparent primary custody. In some cases, the courts still award visitation rights to the parent or guardian who loses physical custody of the child to a grandparent. Nevertheless, the child will live and spend the most time with the grandparent.

Legal Custody

  • Grandparents can also obtain legal custody of their grandchildren. Legal custody doesn't give grandparents the right to keep grandchildren in their physical custody. Instead, legal custody gives grandparents the right to make the most important decisions governing the child's life. Specifically, this includes the right to make decisions about the child's religion, health care, education and other major influences on the child's future.

Full Custody

  • In some situations, the custody rights of grandparents allow them to file for full legal and physical custody of the grandchild. For example, this may be possible if the grandparent has already served as the child's primary caregiver for a least one year. Full custody could also be awarded if the grandparent has reasonable cause to believe that the parents abuse or neglect the child, or if living with the parents exposes the child to mental illness or substance abuse.

Factors Affecting Custody Decisions

  • Grandparents who petition for legal, physical or full custody of their grandchild must prove some facts to the judge and court. This includes demonstrating that awarding the grandparent custody is in the best interest of the grandchild. In addition, a grandparent must demonstrate that the relationship with the grandchild began with a parent's consent or with a previous court order. In addition, the courts will want to see evidence that the grandparent has a genuine care and concern for the child's well being.

Other Custody Arrangements

  • Some grandparents file for joint custody of the grandchild or for visitation rights. These custody arrangements allow grandparents to spend time with their grandchild without the permission, approval or supervision of the child's custodial parents. The courts generally don't deny visitation rights to a grandparent. It's also easier to obtain visitation rights versus joint or full custody.


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