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Pennsylvania Grandparents' Rights

Constitutionality Upheld in Hiller v. Fausey


Grandfather and granddaughter face to face

Grandparents in every state want to see their grandchildren, but some states make it harder than others.

Photo © Camille Tokerud | Stone | Getty Images Pennsylvania grandparents' rights

Pennsylvania's statutes about grandparents' rights survived a 2006 challenge.

Image © State of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania laws are somewhat confusing because they do not use the term "visitation." Instead they refer to seven different types of custody. Grandparents are, however, mentioned specifically as being eligible for "partial physical custody" and "supervised physical custody" (visitation). Before filing for either type of custody/visitation, grandparents must first establish standing. Grandparents may file if the parent who is their child has died. Also a suit may be filed if the parents are divorced, have filed for divorce or have been separated for six months or more. In these circumstances, the court is instructed to consider the amount of personal contact that took place before the application. In an additional scenario, if the child resided with the grandparent for twelve months or more and was removed from the grandparent's home by parents, the court may award partial physical custody or supervised physical custody, but suit must be filed within six months after the removal. In all the situations listed above, the court must consider whether visitation is in the child's best interest and whether visitation would interfere with the parent-child relationship. Great-grandparents have the same rights as grandparents, and adoption terminates visitation rights unless the adopting party is a stepparent, grandparent or great-grandparent.

See Pennsylvania statutes concerning child custody. Relevant sections are § 5325 and § 5328 (c).

Like many state statutes, the Pennsylvania ones have been challenged in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, which upheld the right of parents to make decisions in the best interest of their children. The Pennsylvania statutes survived a challenge in 2006's Hiller v. Fausey. The case involved an 11-year-old boy whose mother died and whose father denied him contact with his grandmother. Because the Pennsylvania law specifically mentions cases in which a parent is deceased and because the grandmother and grandson had been close during the mother's illness, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found for the grandmother.

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