The rights of a grandparent for custody of a grandchild in Pennsylvania are set forth under the Custody and Grandparent Visitation Act. Generally, a grandparent can only be awarded custody if:

  • their child (the parent of their grandchild) is deceased; or
  • the parents of their grandchild are divorced or separated; or
  • the grandchild has lived with (or been raised by) the grandparent for 12 months; or
  • the grandchild is substantially at risk of abuse from the parents.

Death of Parent – If the parent of a child is deceased, the parents (or grandparents) of the deceased parent may be granted reasonable partial custody or visitation rights to the child if it is determined to be in the best interests of the child and would not interfere with the child’s relationship with the surviving parent.  

Separation or Divorce
If the parents of the child are divorced, divorcing, or separated for six months or more, a grandparent can receive reasonable partial custody or visitation rights to the child if it is determined to be in the best interests of the child and would not interfere with the child’s relationship with either parent.

Prior Residence – Partial Custody/Visitation – A grandparent can obtain partial custody or visitation of a grandchild if the child has:

  • resided with the grandparent for 12 months or more and has been removed from the home by the parents; and
  • partial custody or visitation of the child with the grandparent is in the best interest of the child; and
  • the partial custody or visitation does not interfere with the parent-child relationship.

Parent-like Relationship or Substantial Risk of AbusePhysical and Legal Custody – A grandparent can obtain temporary physical and legal custody of a grandchild if:

  • it is in the best interest of the child not to be in the custody of either parent; and
  • it is in the best interest of the child to be in the custody of the grandparent;    and
  • the grandparent has genuine care and concern for the child; and
  • the grandparent’s relationship with the child began with the consent of a parent of the child or pursuant to court order; and
  • A) for 12 months or more the grandparent has assumed the role and responsibilities of the child’s parent; or B) the grandparent deems is necessary to assume the responsibility for a child who is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.

Absent the above, courts, in a custody dispute, generally consider a grandparent a third-party with no more rights to the custody of a child than a stranger.  As is typical in most custody disputes, success largely depends on the gathering and presentation of the specific facts of the case.