Are you a “Big Little Lies” fan? Grandparent custody and visitation was a central plot point of the acclaimed drama’s second season. In the series, a grandmother battles to get custody of her grandchildren – attempting to wrench it away from the biological mother on allegations that she was mentally unwell.
The sentiment is one familiar to many grandparents, and family members often attempt to help each other. That is not always the case, however, and occasionally families become embroiled in litigation to determine who will care for the children.
Is it even possible in Maryland for grandparents and other non-biological parents to get custody of your children?
The answer is “yes,” but it is a difficult, uphill battle, because the U.S. Supreme Court said that grandparents don’t naturally have parenting or visitation rights over their grandchildren. Instead, the grandparent must satisfy a rigorous two-part test. First, the parent has to be declared unfit by the Court or extraordinary circumstances have to exist. Second – and only if the prior criteria is met – the Court will apply factors to determine what is in the child or children’s best interests.
To determine whether extraordinary circumstances exist, a judge examines multiple factors, including the following:
- Whether the biological or adoptive parent consented to, and fostered, the grandparent’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child.
- Whether the grandparent and the child lived together in the same household.
- Whether the grandparent assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education, and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation.
- Whether the grandparent has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established a bonded, dependent relationship with the child that is parental in nature.
Based on these factors, if the judge finds extraordinary circumstances to exist, then – and only then – can he or she decide upon the best interests of the child or children. If extraordinary circumstances do not exist, the grandparent’s case is dismissed.
Grandparent custody and visitation – and third-party custody – is one of the most contentious areas of family law litigation, usually because it pits generations of family members against each other. This is not an area of litigation for the faint of heart, but rather for the most experienced family law attorneys to handle.
SIEGELLAW can help. Fill out the form on this page to request additional information, or call us at 410-792-2300 to learn more.