How Can Grandparents Obtain Legal Guardianship of Their Grandchildren?

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The process by which grandparents can obtain legal guardianship of their grandchildren may require obtaining a court order from a judge, and the procedural specifics and types of guardianship arrangements vary in different states. Some specialized online resources that provide custody guidelines and options for grandparents are the various links on the home page of the Grandfamilies organization website, the “Grandfamilies: Legal Issues” page of the Generations United (GU) website and the “Grandparents’ Rights and Custody Options” page of the Helpguide website.

Because of the range of issues involved and the variety of custodial options, the Helpguide website recommends seeking professional legal help when obtaining guardianship of grandchildren. Guardianship is often set-up in a probate court and reflects a legal relationship in which a child’s parents maintain some of their rights, but the child’s everyday caregiving becomes the responsibility of the guardian. There is also a greater degree of decision-making authority for the guardian in the arrangement. In some states, guardianship is a legally permanent relationship that lasts until the child reaches the age of 18.

Another approach that may be taken is to secure a custody order from a judge. This differs from a guardianship relationship, and may require that the grandparents prove to the court that the child’s parents are unfit to raise the child. In a legal custody arrangement, the child’s parents may be able to prove to the court at sometime in the future that they have become capable of raising their child, and a judge can issue another court order reverting custody back to the parents.