In many instances grandparents are fulfilling a dual role in the lives of their grandchildren, one as parents as well as the traditional role as grandparents. There are many reasons for this dual role as American society has evolved over the last several decades. No matter what the reason, grandparents who are raising grandchildren need to be aware of the legal issues involved concerning their responsibilities and the rights of the parents.
Grandparents can become caregivers to grandchildren for a variety of reasons. If a grandchild has been removed from his or her parent’s home by authorities, the local child welfare service will look to family members, including grandparents, for temporary or foster placement of the child. Often, grandchildren are simply left with grandparents because the adult children are not capable of caring for them or abandon them.
Grandparents can seek to have legal custody of grandchildren through the courts. With legal custody grandparents then have the legal right to make healthcare, educational and general welfare decisions concerning the child; grandparents can then decide, for example, where the grandchildren will live and attend school. However, parents can continue to step in and make other decisions about the child, especially major healthcare decisions.
Legal guardianship is another category of custody which conveys a higher level of control over the child’s life. Guardianship allows the guardian to control all aspects of the child’s welfare; the parents no longer have any say in decisions concerning the child.
When seeking to become the legal guardian of a grandchild, grandparents must prove to the court that the parents are incapable of properly caring for the child. This step may be emotionally difficult as parents (the grandparents) must seek to prove that their own child is an unfit parent. However difficult this step may be, legal guardianship may be the best option for the long-term welfare of a grandchild.
While it may be convenient to simply care for a grandchild without regard to legal issues, it’s best to consult with a qualified attorney about obtaining legal custody or legal guardianship.
Attorney at Law
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