When parents are unavailable or unable to take care of their own children, it is up to family such as grandparents and friends to step in and help.   The law in Pennsylvania has changed again to make it easier for others to have the legal right to get custody of children who are not their own.  The new law that went into effect in July 2018 is designed to help children stay with adults that they know if their parents are absent, temporarily or long-term.

Previously, in 2016, we reported that the Supreme Court had changed the way grandparent standing was handled.  Now, the legislature has added to the law to allow third parties who are not necessarily relatives of the children to obtain standing.   Standing for custody rights has been expanded from grandparents to great-grandparents and other third parties, in part because of what is described as the “opioid crisis.”  Drugs in particular have sent parents to rehab or incarceration, leaving their children to be cared for by others, but this is not the only reason for others to become a child’s custodian.

Now, in addition to grandparents and great-grandparents, individuals such as stepparents, aunts or uncles, and even friends of the mother and father may go to Court to assume responsibility for a child.  The following conditions must be met:  1) Neither parent has any form of care or control of the child; 2) The third party has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and 3) The individual has a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.  The law can be read in full at 23 Pa. C.S.A. 5324.

If two separate parties with standing seek custody of a child, the Court will still need to consider the child’s best interests to determine where the child should live.  For example, the circumstances may favor a stepparent who has helped to raise the child, even though a grandparent who lives in another location is a blood relative.  A stepparent’s role may have been sustained, substantial and sincere if they have been acting as a parent before the mother or father became unavailable. Stability and consistency in the child’s living arrangements are important factors that affect the child’s best interests.

If you are raising a child who is not your own and you want to formalize your role with a court order for custody, speak to an attorney at The Mazza Law Group for legal advice and assistance.