Changes to Grandparent Standing for Custody/Visitation

Section 5325 of the Domestic Relations laws sets out the circumstances under which grandparents and great-grandparents may petition for partial custody/visitation. One of three conditions must be met: (1) a parent of the child is deceased; (2) the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months; or (3) the child has lived with the grandparents or great-grandparents for at least 12 consecutive months provided a petition is filed within six months after the child is removed from the home. In a decision from September 9, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for the Western District, held that Section 5325(2) intruded on the constitutional rights of the parents.

In D.P. and B.P. v. G.J.P. and A.P., No. 25 WAP 2015, the parents to three children had been married and subsequently separated, but did not institute divorce proceedings. The grandparents filed for partial custody under Section 5325, where the parents of the child have been separated for at least six months, after the parents mutually agreed to end contact with the grandparents. The court ultimately ruled that just because the parents were separated did not mean they could not still make sound decisions regarding their children. Parents have a fundamental interest in rearing their children as they see fit. Any law that seeks to impede on that natural right must pass the test of strict scrutiny, meaning the it must be “narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest.” The court held that Section 5325(2) did not pass the strict scrutiny standard and hence the grandparents were not able to ask for custody. I suspect that there will be challenges forthcoming from parents that have initiated divorce proceedings but feel they can still make mutual decisions for their children without the grandparents being able to interfere.

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