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Understanding Grandparents’ Rights

In certain circumstances, grandparents may have legal rights to adopt, get custody of or visit their grandchildren.

In Pennsylvania, there are certain situations that give a grandparent the right to visit or raise his or her grandchild. The rights vary based on the specific situation. For example, not all grandparents will have a legal right to get custody of a child during a divorce, but some extraneous circumstances may make it a viable option. A grandparent’s rights may also depend on the type of guardianship he or she is seeking.


Adoption would give the grandparent a permanent and complete authority of the child or children involved, according to the Help Guide, an online resource for social, emotional and mental health. This authority would strip parents of their rights to make legal decisions about the child. The grandparents might still allow visitation, but they would not be expected to do this. This extreme step would only be available if the parents were not fit and were expected to never be fit to raise their child. Some families turn to this option if the parents are too young to take on the responsibilities associated with raising a child.


Grandparents may have the right to seek custody if, according to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, a circumstance is met, such as the following:

  • Responsibilities associated with custody is something the grandparent is willing to take on.
  • A court order or the parents’ consent initiated the custodial relationship.
  • The child had previously lived with the grandparents for at least 12 consecutive months.
  • The existence of alcohol or substance abuse, neglect, or physical abuse in the parents’ home places the child at risk

Custody may fit into either legal or physical, or both. Legal custody gives grandparents the right to make any and all decisions concerning the child. Physical custody refers to the control over where the child lives and with whom, but in these cases, legal custody may still be awarded to the parents. In other cases, grandparents may be granted sole legal and physical custody of the child. Custody may be contested, but sometimes these rights are willingly given to the grandparent by the parent, especially in the case of physical custody.


Under most circumstances, it is up to the parents to dictate who can or cannot see their child. However, during a divorce or after a death, grandparents may have to seek legal help to ensure they are able to be a part of their grandchild’s life. According to the American Grandparents Association, Pennsylvania law states that if visitation is awarded, a change in the child’s best interest or a change in the custody, such as if the child is adopted, may interrupt grandparents’ visitation rights. Additionally, before they pursue court-mandated visitation, grandparents must wait at least six months after the parents have been divorced or separated.

In Reading, certain circumstances may make it hard for a grandparent to play an active role in the life of his or her grandchild. If grandparents want to explore their legal rights, they may benefit from talking with an attorney practiced in family law.