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Grandparent Adoption Laws

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What Custody Arrangements Are Available to Grandparents?

Sometimes, a parent is unable to care for a child. While some grandparents do not seek legal authority, an informal relationship can complicate your ability to enroll them in school, make healthcare decisions, or apply for public benefits on their behalf. These problems can be avoided by seeking court approval of your arrangement.

Unlike a child’s parent, grandparents do not have automatic custody rights in most states. However, there are circumstances where you can petition the court for legal and physical custody of a grandchild. Your legal options may include:

  • Adoption: Terminates the parent-child relationship between the child and his or her biological parents. The grandparents become the child’s legal parents.  
  • Foster Care: Grandparents care for a child, but a foster care agency retains legal custody. Ideally, foster care is temporary.
  • Legal Guardianship: A court order or will gives someone authority to care for a child. The biological parents continue to have some rights (such as the ability to visit the child). Depending on state law, guardianship may be more permanent than a custody order.
  • Power of Attorney:  Gives grandparents (or another individual) legal authority to make specific decisions for a child. You only have the rights specifically set out in the power of attorney—which can be terminated by the parent at any time.
  • Sole or Shared Custody: A court divides parenting responsibilities between parents or grandparents. In a sole custody situation, one person or family is fully responsible for the child’s daily needs and life decisions. (A non-custodial parent may be responsible for child support payments.) Custody orders can be modified if they are no longer in the child’s best interest.
  • Visitation Rights: Grandparent’s visitation rights vary from state-to-state. You may be able to petition the court for visitation. A small minority of states (including California and New York) even permit grandparent visitation after a child is adopted.

An experienced family law attorney can help you decide which option is best for you and your grandchildren.

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What Are Some Common Reasons for Grandparent Adoption?

Unfortunately, families are sometimes faced with difficult decisions. If parents are unable to properly care for a child, grandparents may be able to step in and help. Grandparent adoptions occur due to:

  • Death,
  • Serious disabilities,
  • Substance abuse,
  • Incarceration,
  • Child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, and
  • Other situations where the parents cannot adequately care for the child.

Not all grandparent adoptions are confrontational. Sometimes, parents realize that their child will benefit from the stability and emotional support that grandparents can provide.

Are There Different Types of Adoption Available?

Adoptions come in many forms. Most grandparent adoptions are considered kinship adoptions (when a child is adopted by a family member). And, most grandparent adoptions are open adoptions. In an open adoption, you permit interaction between the child and his or her biological parents. This level of interaction can vary—from the occasional email or birthday card to regular meetings and activities together.

A smaller number of grandparent adoptions are closed. In a closed adoption, there is no contact between the child and his or her birth parents. Sometimes, this can help protect the child from emotional harm. However, closed kinship adoptions can complicate your family’s dynamics. And, some children struggle with the secrecy of a closed adoption as they age.

All forms of adoption require filing a petition with the court. The court will review your request (and any objections), and either approve or deny the adoption.

Can I Stop Another Family’s Adoption of my Grandchild?

Depending on state law, the court may have to notify you of a grandchild’s pending adoption. You also have the right to object to another family’s adoption of your grandchild. However, the court may still approve the adoption if it is in the child’s best interest. If you object to your grandchild’s upcoming adoption, contact a family law attorney for help.

As a Grandparent, Is Adoption Right for My Family?

Before you adopt a grandchild, you should ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Am I physically and financially capable of caring for the child?
  • How will the adoption impact my relationships with other family members?
  • Are the child’s parents willing to terminate their parental rights?
  • Would the child benefit from an open or closed adoption?
  • Who will step in if I can no longer care for the child?

Adoption is a serious commitment. If you do not think you can meet your grandchild’s ongoing needs, do not pursue adoption.

Should I Hire an Adoption Lawyer?

Adopting a grandchild is a significant decision. It also involves interaction with social workers and the courts.  A family law attorney can help you navigate the process. And, if there are objections to your request, a lawyer can help you build a strong case for the adoption.

Photo of page author Leigh Ebrom

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 08-20-2017 09:57 PM PDT

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