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Grandparents and Child Support

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When Does a Grandparent Have to Support Children?

Whether a grandparent will be legally required to pay for supporting a grandchild will depend largely on the laws of the state. However, under a little known provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 - also known as the Welfare Reform Act - every state is encouraged to have a process laid out by which a child support order can be enforced against grandparents. Again, the process and the requirements will vary by state. The important take away is that while every state accepting federal funding for child support is encouraged to have a law making grandparents accountable for child support, only 13 have enacted such a law.

Generally, grandparents may be liable to pay child support or care for their grandchild if:

  • The parents are minors
  • The parents can prove they are unable to support the children
  • The grandparents have custody of the child in and are in fact parenting the child
  • One parent cannot be found but their parents - the grandparents - can be

States where grandparents may be required to pay for the support of their grandchild are:

  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Is It Difficult to Prove Parents Are Unable to Support Their Children?

The standard varies by state. However, in general, it can be quite difficult for parents to prove that they are unable to support children. A parent must prove that they are beyond indigent, and lack such resources that they are unable to provide for a child's basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothes.

Would a Court Grant Custody of a Child To The Grandparents?

It depends, but more states are willing to award custody to a grandparents rather than just holding the grandparent accountable for child support. For example, assume that under the Welfare Reform Act, there is a parent who receives public assistance but refuses to pay or seek child support. In this case, grandparents may sue the parent for custody of the child and will usually win if they are able to support the child. A few states even allow grandparents to receive some government assistance in supporting their grandchildren.

Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights to Their Grandchildren?

Again, it depends. However, in situations where financial dependency and child support or at issue, a grandparent may be able to assert specially recognized rights. Common instances where grandparent visitation rights are more likely to be granted include:

  • The child's parents have been separated for at least six months, or are divorced;
  • The child's best interests are served when granting the grandparent partial custody or visitation rights;
  • The child has lived with a grandparent for one year under the consent of a parent; or
  • A birth parent has died.

It is worth noting that a grandparent will need to petition the court for any specific visitation schedule.

Is a Lawyer Needed for Grandparent Child Support Issues?

Child support is a very complex issue, usually riddled with emotions, and can become bitter very quickly. Finding a good family law attorney is the best way to protect your rights and find specific answers any questions you might have.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-09-2017 01:16 AM PST

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