Grandparent rights are one of the areas of family law that seems to be constantly evolving. At the moment, in terms of custody, a grandparent really doesn’t have a significant legal advantage over anyone else. Most of the determination goes primarily to substantial past contact with the child, and the child’s best interest. One could argue that there is always somewhat of an unspoken understanding that a child staying attached to their biological family is preemptively better, and I would agree, but that is really only codified at the moment as to the parents, and not the grandparents. It wasn’t always this way, there used to be more specific standing for grandparents to seek custody, but over time, things have shifted to favor the place and people with whom the child has had the most contact.
The first thing to take away from this as a grandparent is that it is important to maintain constant contact with your grandchildren if you want to protect that right. The more attached you and your grandchild are, the easier it will be to show how it is in the child’s best interest to be in your custody. If you haven’t seen your grandchild in a year or two, and it comes to a situation where a judge is making decisions on where a child lives, they are very reluctant to send children to live with people who the child may not know as well.
The second thing to take away, is there is no inherent part of the legal process that involves grandparents in a custody process. If you want to be involved, for the most part you need to be active in asserting your rights. The earlier the better! This may mean hiring an attorney, or at least consulting with one.
There are more specific statutes dealing with grandparent ACCESS (read: visitation) as opposed to conservatorship (read: custody). It is still an issue of having to assert your rights, but you likely have some more law on your side on this issue, especially in regards to a divorce proceeding. Similarly to custody though, the more contact you had prior, the more contact you will likely receive after, so keep that in mind.
The MOST important thing in this area is to be aware that it is anything BUT cut and dried, and it is essential to speak with an attorney about the specific facts in your case to see what your next course of action should be.
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