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Step-Grandparent Standing- What is Needed by Law?

When grandparents need to step in and take control- Even Step-grandparents.

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Family Law Division Leader, Harrisburg, PA

I was recently involved in a custody case that had two parents on one side and a step-grandparent on the other. The step-grandparent had cared for the child for over 3 years and was recently widowed by the natural grandparent of one of the two parents. The parents had done a woefully inadequate job of raising the child. What sparked the controversy was that natural grandfather had passed and now the parents thought they had to step back in and take the child away from step-grandma. She wasn't a rightful party?....I mean, she's a step-grandparent, right?

Not so fast. Step-grandparents may be parties to the action by law.

A step-grandparent or grandparent has standing to bring a petition for physical and legal custody of a grandchild. If it is in the best interest of the child not to be in the custody of either parent and if it is in the best interest of the child to be in the custody of the step-grandparent, the court may award physical and legal custody to the step-grandparent. These provisions apply to a grandparent or a step-grandparent:

(1) who has genuine care and concern for the child;

(2) whose relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent of the child or pursuant to an order of court; and

(3) who for 12 months has assumed the role and responsibilities of the child's parent, providing for the physical, emotional and social needs of the child, or who assumes the responsibility for a child who has been determined to be a dependent child pursuant to the statutory provisions relating to juvenile matters or who assumes or deems it necessary to assume responsibility for a child who is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.

The court may issue a temporary order pursuant to this section.

In this case, the step-grandparent had standing to request primary physical custody (the child was still with them and doing well). If you have questions about your rights as a grandparent or even a step-grandparent, contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC