Opioid Crisis Prompts Changes in Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws

As Philadelphia family lawyers we’ve fielded many questions from grandparents about whether they can sue for custody. We’ve also heard from aunts, uncles, and even family friends who want to step in when a child’s situation gets bad.

Sometimes, Mom isn’t fit to raise a child. Sometimes Dad isn’t. And sometimes neither parent is. Sadly, the opioid drug use crisis is creating more situations where neither parent is available to the child, to the point where Gov. Wolf declared the problem a statewide emergency earlier this year. This is forcing Pennsylvania courts to adapt by offering more avenues for relatives to come seeking custody.

How a Third Party May Seek Custody

As reported by The Legal Intelligencer the new standard allowing a third party to seek custody is as follows:

  • You must be able to establish you are willing to assume responsibility for the child.
  • You must be able to prove you have a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child’s welfare.
  • Third parties may only seek custody when neither parent has “care and control” of the child.

The courts will consider the following factors:

  • How long you’ve been involved in the child’s life.
  • The quality of your relationship with the child.
  • The extent of your relationship with the child.

If you can meet these standards it no longer matters if you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a family friend. Obviously the evidence must be clear and compelling, and it’s not as simple as these standards may make it sound.

It’s also likely judges will continue to observe the same child custody case standards they always have to determine what may be in the best interests of the child. Keep in mind that seeking custody as a third party could open yourself up to a child support obligation later. When you decide to seek parental rights you are asking for parental responsibilities too, and there’s no telling what the future will bring.

If you are a third party seeking custody, you’ll need an experienced family attorney by your side to make a clear and compelling case.

See also: 5 Important Steps to Win Child Custody in Philadelphia.

What Parents Need to Know

In many ways this expansion of the law is a good thing. It opens a door to protect the welfare of children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them.

But it’s also a scary thing for good parents. Once upon a time parents really only had to worry about their exes coming after them for custody. A door has been opened now, one that means some perfectly good parents will be facing custody threats from multiple directions.

It would be nice to say only drug addict parents need to be concerned, but custody is more complex than that. Custody cases end up resolved in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons, not all of them typical or expected.

Protect yourself by putting a good family law attorney in your corner.

The law changes on July 4, so we’ve yet to see how it may play out in courts.

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