Do Grandparents have Standing to Pursue Legal and Physical Custody of a Child?

The Superior Court recently issued an opinion concerning whether a grandmother had standing to pursue legal and physical custody against the biological mother.  In this case, the child and mother lived with grandmother for a few years.  Later, when mother and child moved out, the child would often spend every other weekend with the grandmother.  The lower court found that the grandmother stood in loco parentis, and allowed her to pursue a custody action against the mother.

In Pennsylvania, any person can sue for legal or physical custody of a child if they stand in loco parentis to the child.  This has been defined as a person who puts himself/herself in the place of a parent, assuming all parental obligations without actually going through the formality of an adoption.  However, a third party is not permitted to place themselves in loco parentis if the parents object. Our Supreme Court has said that when a third party has established strong bonds with the child, through living with the child and providing nurture, care and affection, it is in the child’s best interest to allow that third party to pursue custody.

In looking at the grandmother’s role in the child’s life, the Superior Court agreed with the mother that her role was more of babysitter or temporary caretaker than that of a parent.  The court relied on the fact that mother, child and grandmother did not live together as a family unit, and that grandmother did not assume parenting roles or duties in mother’s absence. The Superior Court held that grandmother did not stand in loco parentis and therefore lacked standing to pursue custody.