Grandparents Rights and Options for Custody


I have written a few blog posts about the difficulties grandparents face when trying to obtain custody or access to their minor grandchildren if the biological or adopted parents of the child do not want them to have custody or even access.

However, According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau responses, 2.7 million grandchildren are being raised by their grandparents. These grandparents give up their retirement and take over the responsibilities of being a full-time primary caregiver.

Custody Options for Grandparents

There are three custody options for grandparents:
1. legal custody (will need to prove both biological/adopted parents are either unfit and/or exceptional circumstances have occurred),
2. guardianship (extremely hard to obtain these days),
3. Adoption

Guardianship, which is becoming more and more difficult to obtain in Maryland, even more so than custody. Guardianship is similar to legal custody in that it is a legal relationship between grandparent and grandchild that is ordered by a court. With legal custody, grandparents accept the day-to-day caregiving responsibilities for the child, while parents retain some of their rights. The primary difference between guardianship and legal custody is that guardianship is usually handled in probate court.

In some states, guardianship’s are more permanent than legal custody. Legal custody is in effect until the child is 18. Sometimes, guardians also have more authority, including the ability to:

  • make medical decisions on behalf of a grandchild
  • add a grandchild to a health insurance plan
  • designate a standby guardian who can take care of a grandchild if and when they are not able to

Adoption is a permanent option where the grandparent receives all parental rights and responsibilities and the child’s biological parents no longer have any rights.

All three require a petition to the court. The most common way to establish a legal relationship with a grandchild is through a custody order. If grandparents are unable to afford to hire a lawyer, they may contact their local Legal Aid office.

Financial Assistance for Grandparents

The type of custody arrangement determines the type of assistance and benefits grandparents are entitled to. For instance, if a child is removed from their home by child protective services and placed with their grandparents, in most states the grandparents are entitled to receive foster care payments on behalf of the children in their care. For those grandparents who step in prior to child protective services, and obtain legal guardianship, there may be subsidies available, though generally less of a stipend. Other sources of financial assistance include:

  • parental child support
  • Social Security for those who are retired or for a child who’s parent is deceased
  • TANF “child only grant”
  • food stamps
  • children’s health insurance program (CHIP) for children under 18
  • Medicaid for those whose incomes are limited

Becoming the caregiver for a grandchild impacts all aspects of a person’s life. Grandparents often have legal difficulties related to custody, including possible legal battles with the children’s parents. They often have limited financial resources and may worry about providing adequate housing, food and clothing. Parenting may be challenging, especially if the grandchildren have developmental issues. They may have limited energy and even health issues, which make parenting that much harder. Grandparents may feel anger at their grandchildren’s parents, guilt about their own parenting, or embarrassment about their family situation. It can be a very stressful time, yet for many it is also a fulfilling time.


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