On July 4, a change to the child custody laws in Pennsylvania is set to impact standing for grandparents and third parties. Historically, grandparents have been given an elevated status with regard to child custody matters. Normally, only parents or people acting as parents (in loco parentis) are individuals who may seek custody of a child. However, because of the elevated status given to grandparents, they are a special group of people who can also seek custody even if they do not stand in loco parentis. This special treatment given to grandparents predates the current Child Custody Act which went into effect in 2012 as well as the act that preceded it.
In 2016, in the case of D.P. v. G.J.P., 146 A.3d 204 (Pa. 2016), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a portion of the Custody Act granting grandparents standing to seek custody of a child to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s ruling closed the door to the courthouse to a degree and grandparents no longer had as many avenues to seek custody of a grandchild. At the time that the Supreme Court decided the DP case, under the 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5325(2), grandparents had standing to seek partial physical custody of a child: “Where the parents of the child have been separated for a period of at least six months or have commenced and continued a proceeding to dissolve their marriage.” It has been interpreted by the Superior Court that Section 5325(2) also grants standing to grandparents of children born out of wedlock.
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