Legislation introduced by Senator Don White, Senate Bill 844, expanding the legal standing for individuals seeking to gain custody of children in cases where no biological or adoptive parent has custody was approved by the Senate on Tuesday (December 12) and sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senator White said his bill addresses the devastating toll of the opioid crisis on families across the Commonwealth, which can be especially heart-wrenching when it involves the innocent children of addicts who, because of their addiction, are unable to care for them. Often, grandparents are called upon to care for those children — even though they currently have little to no legal standing under current state law.
“Too many lives have been tragically cut short by the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across the state and their children end up becoming caught up in the turmoil that ensues,” said Senator White. “My legislation would give legal standing to people who are sincerely concerned for these children, but do not meet the conditions set by Pennsylvania’s custody law. In many cases, these people have already provided financial support and/or previously performed parental duties. Under my proposal, grandparents or other third parties would be allowed to file for legal custody in cases where the parents are deceased or absent, provided they can show that they have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.”
When the legislature amended the grandparent custody and visitation statute in 2010, a grandparent’s right or “standing” to file for custody of a grandchild became more limited, essentially removing what was once an automatic right.
“As a result, there have been instances where custody was awarded to a boyfriend or girlfriend, even though the grandparents had been involved throughout the child’s life,” Senator White said. “Under current law, the grandparents do not meet the conditions to have the right to pursue custody. Ironically, a third party who resided with the child and was acting in ‘loco parentis’ (performing parental duties) would have the right to file for custody. That’s just not right for the grandparents or the child.”
Senator White added that “standing” in a legal sense is a preliminary step that determines only which parties can be in the courtroom pursuing custody. In a custody trial the court considers the “best interests of the children” and takes into account the children’s relationship with all of the parties.
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