Grandparent standing in child dependency matters largely depends on when the right is asserted and when the child came into the care of the grandparent.
By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Grandparents Rights Attorney, Harrisburg, PA
I had previously blogged regarding the Supreme Court's holding in R.M. v Baxter, 565 Pa. 619, 777 A.2d 446 (2001). (See link to article). In R.M., the Court held that "[a] grandparent has standing to bring a petition for physical and legal custody of a grandchild" after the child has been adjudicated dependent. While this case still remains good law, I think the more recent decision in In the Interest of A.J., a minor, Appeal of D.J., Maternal Grandmother, 29 A.3d 1, 2011 Pa.Super. 146 (2011) draws a very important distinction to that general rule.
In the Interest of A.J., the maternal grandmother filed a petition seeking special relief in child dependency. She did not file a petition for custody of the children. In child dependency proceedings, standing, or the right to sue, is conferred upon three (3) classes of persons:
- the parents of the juvenile whose dependency is at issue;
- the legal custodian of the juvenile; or
- the person whose care and control of the juvenile is in question.
Here, the three children involved were adjudicated dependent, then placed into foster care. The trial court considered grandmother as a placement resource but limited her to supervised visitation. Grandmother then filed a petition for special relief seeking an order conferring standing on her in custody and children and youth matters. The Superior Court held that grandmother should be denied her request because there was no filing of a custody petition and the case was governed by the Juvenile Act and not the PA Custody and Grandparents' Visitation Act. Therefore, grandmother's rights were restricted.
What's the Takeaway?
Pursuant to the R.M. decision, grandmother should have intially filed for child custody under the Grandparents' Rights Act, not special relief under the Juvenile Act. She may have still been limited, however, based upon her prior consideration by the court as a placement resource. Further, she would have to plead and prove that she met the requisite elements under the Grandparents' Rights Act. (See link to article regarding those requirements). However, filing a claim as a Grandparents' Rights Act would have afforded her more protections.
If you are a grandparent and are seeking assistance to obtain custody rights over your grandchild(ren), you need legal assistance. It's imperative, as evidenced by this matter, that your case be handled properly before the court. You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.