What Grandma and Grandpa Need to Know About Custody Petitions

little girl blowing bubbles, and elderly couple sitting on the grass laughing
Sep 23, 2019 | Sara Khaki

To the Ones Who Support Us During Tough Times

A little-known holiday takes place this month, and it allows us to celebrate the people who make a significant impact on the family dynamic: National Grandparents Day!

No two grandparents are exactly the same. Just as there are some grandmothers who embody the sweet and nurturing persona, ensuring there are homemade sweets for every visit, there are others who go on roller coasters and play in the sprinklers, keeping up with the wildest of grandkids. And just as there are grandfathers who teach kids how to fish, hunt, and camp, there are others who impart life lessons through simple but poignant coffee conversations. Regardless of the type of grandparents you have in your life, one characteristic seems apparent across most families: ceaseless support, particularly during hard times.

Grandparents play an important role in divorce cases. In the vast majority of circumstances, they lend a listening ear, offer mental and emotional encouragement, assist parents in wading through unresolved custody agreements, and help their grandkids come to terms with a big change. In cases that are more complex, however, grandparents might need to know more information about custody arrangements.

Grandparents obtain custody of their grandchildren over the parents’ objection in two primary ways: petitioning for custody or filing a dependency petition in juvenile court.

Petition for Custody

This case is filed in superior court and requires the grandparent to show that parental custody would harm the child, and the award of custody to the grandparent will best promote the child’s health, welfare, and happiness. “Harm” in this case means either physical harm or significant long-term emotional harm, not social or economic disadvantages nor the stress of situations such as divorce or a change in housing or school.

Dependency Petition

This case is filed in juvenile court to obtain temporary custody of a child while a parent addresses the issues that make them unable to properly parent the child. The grandparent must show that the child has been abused or neglected. In juvenile court, a parent may have the right to a court-appointed attorney. If the court finds that the child is dependent and places them in the custody of the grandparent, the court might order the Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) to provide services to the parent to rectify their issues causing dependency.

For example, if the cause of the dependency is a substance-abuse issue, the court might order DFCS to obtain substance-abuse treatment for the parent and monitor the parent’s compliance. Alternatively, the court might not involve DFCS but issue an order giving the parent certain conditions they must meet to regain custody.

If the parent is willing to consent to the grandparent having custody of the child, then the best course of action might be obtaining a temporary guardianship through probate court.

We know these options might initially seem confusing, especially if a custody situation is fraught with tension to begin with, but here at Atlanta Divorce Law Group, our attorneys will assess the facts of your specific situation and determine the best course of action for all involved.

To all the grandparents who have offered support and encouragement to their kids and grandkids during some of life’s toughest moments, we want to issue you a special and genuine thank-you. Happy National Grandparents Day!

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