Sometimes, a child’s parents are unwilling or unable to take care of them. The biological parents may simply be unfit, or one or both may be deceased.
Whatever the case, in this situation the next likely person to take custody of the child is the grandparent(s). You are seen as the next-closest kin who would be fit to raise the child.
If you’re looking at one of these scenarios head-on, there’s much to think about.
Here’s everything you need to know about being grandparents with custody of your grandchildren, including information about attaining custody, your rights as a guardian, and more.
Taking Custody: What the Courts Consider
Attaining custody of your grandchild (or grandchildren) is a big step.
You will take full responsibility for raising them, caring for them, and providing for them.
When you seek custody, the courts take a few matters into account. This may vary a bit from state to state, but in general, they’ll ask:
1. What Are the Parents’ Situation?
- Is either parent still living? Usually, the courts will default custody to one of them unless you can prove they’re unfit to be parents.
- What are the parent’s wishes? It will be harder to attain custody if one of the parents is fighting against it.
2. What Are the Child’s Best Interests?
Another major factor the courts consider is the child’s best interests. There are many different pieces that will help the courts determine what those are:
- The child’s wishes, if they’re old enough to express them
- The environment that has been the most stable for the child
- The parents’ health (both mental and physical)
- The child’s relationships with other members of the household or extended family
- Whether the parents are abusive or abuse drugs and alcohol
3. Who Has Been the Primary Caretaker?
The courts also have a preference for any child to remain with the person who has acted as their primary caretaker. This is because the emotional bonds that form between these two can be incredibly strong – keeping them intact may even help a child successfully move through their development.
The primary caretaker is the person who:
- Plans and prepares meals for the child
- Bathes, dresses, and grooms them
- Takes them to doctor’s appointments, check-ups, and arranges their health care
- Buys their clothing and necessities
- Helps them learn basic reading, writing, and math skills
- Enrolls them in activities and supports their membership in them
As you can see, the courts do not take custodianship lightly. The right home for the child will depend on all of the above factors, not just on who is the best caretaker.
Your Rights as a Legal Guardian
Grandparents as guardians attain certain rights. These are only yours if you gain custody of the child because the mother, father, or both were found to be unfit parents.
1. Physical Custody
If the child will be living with you most, if not all, of the time, then you’ll probably be awarded physical custody.
2. Legal Custody
Legal custody means you have the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, including religion, schools, health care, and more.
3. Joint Custody
In a situation with joint custody, you will share custody equally with another person, usually the child’s father or mother. Grandparents are usually only awarded joint custody in extreme circumstances.
4. Split Custody
Split custody is an option if there is more than one child in the family. This type of custody splits them up among at least two guardians. Each guardian takes on full responsibility for only one child. However, courts generally don’t like to split up siblings in issues of custody.
What It Means to Take Primary Care of a Grandchild
Taking custody of a grandchild is a monumental decision.
When you do this, you become their parent, provider, and caretaker. The decisions for how to raise them, where they go to school, and more fall to you.
Needless to say, it’s a decision that you can’t take lightly. You have to consider your own ability to raise and keep up with a young child, and whether you’re able enough to do it for the long haul.
In some cases, it is truly best for the child to stay with someone as close as a grandparent. Often, the alternative is foster care when neither parent is willing or able to care for the child.
If you’re ready, willing, and able to be a parent as well as a grandparent to your grandchild, know that it won’t be easy. However, you’ll be helping to give the child in question a better life, which will make it all worthwhile.