Reasons Grandparents Can File for Custody of Grandchild

Updated January 4, 2024
10 min read
Reasons Grandparents Can File for Custody of Grandchild


Grandparents often form a special bond with their grandchildren and play a vital role in supporting their growth and development. In an ideal world, these young ones would grow up in a stable household with both biological parents. However, we don't live in an ideal world, and there are reasons grandparents can file for custody of grandchildren. These are primarily when circumstances make this ideal setting impossible.

Situations such as a parent's death, ill health, divorce, or child abuse can compel grandparents to seek custody of their grandchildren. When they begin the legal process for child custody, grandparents are often shocked to learn what their rights are under family law regulations in their state. Therefore, it is crucial for grandparents to be informed and educated about the reasons grandparents can file for custody of a grandchild. This knowledge will guide their decision-making process and choice of action concerning their grandchild's well-being.

What Are the Benefits of Grandparents' Rights?

Research suggests that children who have regular contact with their grandparents develop positive social and emotional behaviors, such as:

  • Increased independence;

  • Lower incidences of depression and anxiety;

  • Well-developed social skills; and

  • An appreciation of culture and family customs.

For these reasons, grandparents' involvement and connection with their grandchild should be maintained to support the child's emotional development. As some of us may know all too well, however, family relationships can be complicated, and the child's parents or other family members may affect the grandparents' relationship with the child.

Grandparents' legal rights can be separated into two distinct areas: visitation rights and custody rights.

Grandparent visitation rights

Grandparent visitation rights vary from state to state but have been recognized for 40 years. Grandparents must prove that the grant of visitation is in the child's best interest.

Factors that may affect a grandparent's visitation rights include:

  • The parents' marital status;

  • Proof of a pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and the child;

  • One parent is deceased (required by a small number of states before visitation is awarded); and

  • Evidence that the child will suffer harm if grandparent visitation is not granted.

Grandparent custody rights

Grandparents may apply for full physical custody of a grandchild in specific cases. Generally, parental rights are prioritized in child custody cases, which can make it very challenging for a grandparent to obtain custody.

Five factors relevant to grandparent custody being granted include:

  1. The child's parents are deceased;

  2. The child's parents are deemed unfit to maintain legal custody;

  3. The child's parents give full consent to grandparent custody;

  4. The child has been living with the grandparents for at least one year; and

  5. The child is at risk for abuse.

How do I get custody of my grandchild?

If you believe your grandchild is at risk of harm or is better off in your care, you may file a petition for custody with the court. A family law attorney can guide you through the process and represent you in legal proceedings. Continue reading below for a further discussion on how grandparents can obtain custody of a grandchild and the key factors to consider before doing so.

Types of Child Custody

So, under what circumstances can a grandparent file for custody? To answer this question, one should understand various types of child custody. The latter is generally defined as the delegation of parental responsibilities in providing care for a child under 18 years.

Custody can be further categorized into four types:

  • Legal custody — the ability to make decisions about the child's health and well-being, such as medical decisions and school enrollment;

  • Physical custody — the right to have the child physically live with the parent or guardian;

  • Joint custody — two or more parties share the responsibility of making decisions regarding the child's health and well-being; and

  • Sole custody — one parent or legal guardian has both legal and physical custody of the child. A parent or guardian with sole custody need not consult other parties when making decisions concerning the child.

The court may order any combination of these custody scenarios depending on the specific circumstances.

Steps Grandparents Should Take To Get Custody

Are you a grandparent interested in obtaining custody of your grandchild? Although it's not an easy decision to make and may involve an emotional and challenging legal process, it can also be a smooth transition for all parties involved, ultimately leading to the most optimal environment for the child.

There are many factors and steps to consider when applying for custody.

Seek visitation

If you are in a situation in which your visitation rights have been denied, seek the professional guidance of a family law attorney. Maintaining visitation rights is vital in preserving the relationship and continuity of contact with the grandchild. Keeping the relationship with the grandchild allows communication to remain open and gives the child the opportunity to share any problems she may be facing at home. In a child custody case, the courts will consider the amount of time the child spends with the grandparents, so maintaining visitation rights is an important step.

Support the role of the parents

A child's relationship with his biological parents is essential for his social and emotional development. Grandparents should, therefore, seek to support the custodial parents in providing quality care to the child. If neither parent has been deemed unfit to carry out their parenting duties, it is improbable that you will obtain custody in court, in which case it is best to try to support the parents and preserve a stable, loving relationship with the grandchild.

Know when to get involved or call the authorities

If your grandchild is currently involved in a custody hearing due to divorce or other reasons, try to support your adult child in his fight for custody. Seek ways to offer support and stability, like providing accommodation or financial assistance. If your adult child is successful in his claim for custody, you will be more likely to maintain visitation rights and protect your relationship with your grandchild.

Consider contacting the authorities if you truly suspect your grandchild is in severe and immediate danger. The authorities have the power to place the child in your care while a full investigation is carried out.

Consider the possible consequences of a custody claim

A child custody case can be highly emotive and has the potential to cause irreparable damage to family relationships. The child's best interests should always be a priority, but it is also crucial to consider the consequences of any action taken by the parties involved, as some consequences may have a lasting effect on the family. 

Other Circumstances in Which Grandparents May Get Custody of Grandchild

There are some circumstances in which grandparents are granted custody of a grandchild without any legal action taken against the custodial parents:

  • The grandchild is old enough to communicate her desire to live with the grandparents;

  • Both parents agree to award custody to the grandparents;

  • State authorities have permanently removed the child from the parent's custody and requested the child be placed in the grandparents' custody; and

  • A valid will grants custody to the grandparents in the event of a parent's death.


Families are complex ecosystems, and many factors can contribute to various decisions — among them, knowing how to get custody of grandchildren. Grandparents play a vital role in a child's emotional and social development, and preserving this relationship is critical. For those considering this step, recognizing that the child's emotional and physical well-being must be the number one priority is crucial. 

If you suspect your grandchild is at risk of harm, it is paramount to seek legal guidance to explore your rights as a grandparent and answer the question, "How can grandparents get custody of grandchildren?" After all, your grandchild may be depending on you during this challenging time.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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