There are many Grandparents in California raising grandchildren because the birth parents are unfit, incarcerated or regrettably, deceased. In some cases, the birth parent is unable to take care of their child because of poor health, incarceration or an addiction to drugs or alcohol. For most children, living with grandparents is a better option than foster care, but there are some legal issues that must be addressed.
A problem can occur when grandchildren need medical treatment or school registration and the grandparent learns they don’t have the legal authority to obtain either one. In these circumstances, it is important that grandparents obtain a court order giving them certain, if not full, legal rights. Grandparents have three legal custody options: Guardianship, visitation or adoption. When granted, the grandparent can make important daily and legal decisions that will impact the child’s life.
Right to Guardianship
When the court grants guardianship to a grandparent, the birth parents still have parental rights. Most guardianship petitions are filed so that a family member, such as grandparent, can have the child live with them and be able to make legal decisions for the child when the birth parent is unable to do so.
It is important keep in mind that although the grandparents will get physical custody, it is not necessarily a permanent solution. The door is not closed, as it is with adoption, to parents seeking and regaining custody.
California law allows a grandparent to ask the court for reasonable visitation with a grandchild. The court generally allows reasonable visitation to a grandparent when there was a pre-existing relationship between grandparent and grandchild and that is beneficial to the child to continue visitation.
These petitions help grandparents who want to continue a relationship with a child whose birth parents are deceased, considered unfit, or have voluntarily given up their parental rights. Although grandparent visitation rights do provide legal decision-making rights, it does allow them to continue a strong relationship with the child, thus influencing their development into adulthood.
Adoption for Grandparents
Often the most complex of custody options, adoption to grandparents is granted when the grandparent can show that the child’s health, safety and well-being are currently in danger due to the abuse or neglect of one or more parents. The danger could be the result of a parent’s drug addiction, alcohol abuse, physical abuse or other compelling reason for which an immediate remedy is needed. In this scenario, the court can terminate parental rights and award custody to a grandparent. If you believe that your grandchildren are being abused or neglected, consult an experienced California family law attorney immediately.
Taking on the responsibility of raising a grandchild can be emotionally, physically and financially demanding. Local courts do have programs to help grandparents with certain petitions. For example, Yolo County provides the free Guardianship Facilitation and Outreach services of the court aimed to assist grandparents with guardianship petitions. Visitation and adoption can be complex legal procedures and usually require assistance from a family law attorney.
If you are contemplating guardianship, visitation or adoption, you should consult with a family law attorney experienced working in the local family court to learn more about your rights and what can be done to protect your relationships.