Grandparents Custody Rights
Nationwide, nearly 3 million grandparents are raising grandchildren – a 7 percent increase from 2009. With the rising opioid epidemic, grandparents’ custody rights are a rising issue the courts are seeing more and more each day. An increasing number of grandparents are obtaining custody of their grandchildren and with that comes various legal issues that need to be addressed with the courts–namely the ability to make educational and medical decisions on behalf of the grandchildren.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling in D.P. and B.P. v. G.J.P and A.P., whereby they effectively eliminated the first provision of the statutory provision in Section 5325, which gives grandparents standing to seek custody, based solely on the separation of the parents due to the unconstitutionality of the provision. They reasoned that this law improperly presumed the parents’ lack of fitness due solely to their separation. However, the Supreme Court kept the second provision of the statute that allows grandparents to seek custodial rights when the parents are going through a divorce or dissolution.
The elimination of this particular section of the statute raises more questions than answers. For one thing, what happens when the parents were never married and only one parent is fit to parent the child? Do the grandparents automatically lose any grandparents’ rights they were previously granted? With the rising crisis in the opioid epidemic, what standing do grandparents of children who are victims to the epidemic have when the other parent is fit to care for the child full-time? These are all questions that have not been answered by the Supreme Court, but affect families across the state. Justices Wecht and Baer said the court should not treat divorced people differently from non-divorced people, but as it stands, the PA Supreme Court is treating them as such. Now, it is up to the General Assembly to act upon this ruling and start making legislative changes to address the issues that arise with the ongoing opioid epidemic, which is not going anywhere anytime soon.