A grandparent does not have a legal right to custody or even a relationship with their grandchildren. The law treats a grandparent the same way it would any stranger to the child. However, if the parent is absent, unfit or voluntarily willing to surrender custody of her daughter, the grandparent can successful file for custody at her local family court. Legal custody permits the grandparent to make decisions for the child.
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Decide what legal grounds you will use to file for custody. You have two generally options. If the parents agree to you having custody, you can go together to file a consent-based agreement. If the parents are absent, or unfit and unwilling to surrender custody, you will have to file through the standard adversarial child-custody system.
Go to your local family court to get a copy of a complaint for child custody from the clerk's office. If the parents consent, you can also get a copy of the answer for the parents.
Complete the complaint. In the complaint, explain why you having custody of your granddaughter is in your granddaughter's best interest. If you are claiming that the parents are unfit, explain in detail why you believe them to be so.
File the forms with the court clerk and pay the filing fee. Only the person filing the complaint has to pay the fee. When filing, you will get a date for the first judicial hearing. If you are filing the complaint alone, you will have to serve the complaint to the parents. If the parent cannot be found, after showing the court that you searched for them, the court may give you permission to serve by publication.
Attend the hearing. At the hearing, explain to the judge why this arrangement is in the best interests of your granddaughter. If the parents do not consent, ask the judge for a temporary custody order. The judge will set another hearing date within a few weeks to decide temporary custody. This hearing is a mini-version of a custody trial. Before the hearing, the judge may want a social worker to come to your home and speak to your granddaughter.
Comply with all court-ordered services. Attend all counselling sessions, mediation or parenting classes the court ordered. Treat all court associated workers with the utmost respect, even if you feel they are intruding into your life.
Attend all court hearings. Before a judge makes a final custody decision, there may be several hearings. The judge will attempt to get both parties to agree or settle. If an agreement is not reached within about a year, the judge will schedule the case for trial. If there is consent from the start, the amount of hearings is likely to be minimal.
Tips and warnings
- Do not pressure the parents to give up custody. The judge will ask the parents if anyone pressured them.
- If you believe your granddaughter is in danger as long as she continues to live with her parents; the custody process may not move fast enough to help her, and you may need to report her parents to Child Protective Services to get her out of the home right away.
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