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The Law and Grandparents

Posted On: November 24, 2014

There are more than 70 million grandparents in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, more than half of these people believe they would do a better job raising their grandchildren than they did raising their own children. Thirteen percent of these grandparents are raising their grandchildren and serve as the primary caregiver for their children’s children.

In order for grandparents to receive custody and even visitation time with their grandchildren, certain conditions must apply. These conditions vary from state to state, but in general, the best interest of the child is the most important factor.

If custody of a child is an issue, courts typically attempt to award it to the mother. If the mother is unavailable or unfit, the next person to be awarded custody is the father. If the father is not an option, grandparents or other blood relations are typically given next priority. In cases where grandparents feel the child’s parents are unfit, the burden of proof is on them to establish the parent is unfit and in most situations, it is extremely difficult to do so. If neglect is found, the court may remove a child from the custody of the parents. Grandparents would then have to qualify for custody. Again the best interest of the child is the Court’s standard. In many instances the Court may appoint a Law Guardian, a legal representative appointed to represent the child’s interests in the proceeding. The Law Guardian will interview and visit all parties home and prepare a report for the Court.

Receiving visitation as a grandparent is easier than receiving custody. Courts take various factors into consideration when determining whether or not to grant grandparents legal visitation, including:

  • Needs of the child, including his or her physical and emotional health
  • Capability of the grandparents to meet the needs of the child
  • Distance between the child’s primary residence and that of the grandparent(s)
  • Wishes of the parent(s)
  • Wishes of the child, if the child is capable of making decisions on his or her own
  • Strength of the relationship between the grandparent(s) and grandchild
  • Length of the relationship between the grandparent(s) and grandchild
  • Evidence of abuse or neglect
  • Ability of the grandparent(s) to provide love, affection, and contact with the child

Ideally, parents are able to work out an arrangement that includes time with grandparents interested in being a part of a child’s life, even after the child’s parents have separated or divorced. However, this is not always the case, especially if the parent’s relationship does not end amicably or the relationship with in-laws was strained when the couple was together. This can be especially problematic in non-traditional families where grandparents are not accepting of life choices, but still wish to play a role in a grandchild’s life.

If you are a grandparent who wants to continue a relationship with a grandchild once his or her parents separate or you are the parent of a child whose grandparents are threatening legal action, it is important to speak with a family attorney. He or she can explain to you the rights of grandparents and determine what action to take to best protect your family.

If you have a legal situation concerning your family and are in need of help, call 631-277-8844 today for a no obligation initial consultation and personal service.



The Law, Single or Divorced Parents, Custody and The Children

Posted On: November 05, 2014

Families come in all shapes and sizes. More and more these days, children and families are challenged with adjusting to transitions. According to the US Census Bureau, about half of all first marriages end in divorce and nearly one million children are affected each year by divorce. During the 2000s, single parent families rose to an all-time high of nearly 40%*.

NYS Laws vary regarding single and divorced parent families. What does that mean and what rights do single or divorced parents have? Custody issues can be complicated when parents of a child were never or are no longer married. Issues affecting single or divorced parents include:

Custody and Visitation
When parents were never legally married, there is no assumption of paternity for single fathers. If a single father wants sole or joint custody of his child, he must file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Custody and/or take a DNA test. This makes it possible for him to pursue sole or shared custody of the child. It will also make him financially responsible for this child, regardless of whether or not custody and visitation is granted.

When a child is adopted, both parents will need to show proof of their standing in their child’s life if the relationship ends and both want custody and/or visitation. As long as both parents played a significant role in the care and upbringing of the adopted child prior to the separation or divorce, it will be treated similarly to if the child were biologically their own. For Gay and Lesbian couples, it is imperative that both parents have been legally recognized by a second parent adoption and/or joint adoption.

When parents were married and are divorcing, the custody and visitation agreement is part of the divorce proceedings. If parents are able to work out a custody and visitation arrangement on their own, the courts just need to approve this. If they are unable to agree on an arrangement, the court will make these decisions based on what it feels is in the best interests of the child.

Child Support
Children born to a married couple are deemed the child of those parents. This premise has yet to be put to the test for Lesbian couples. For an unmarried parent, in order for a parent to receive child support for the care of a child, he or she must prove the other parent is responsible for the child. This is done either through paternity testing or by demonstrating a parent’s role in the adoption of the child.

Best Interest of the Child
Above all else, regardless of the relationship of parents, the best interest of the child will be the standard of review used by the Courts. When parents are able to do this on their own, the court simply oversees their efforts and ensures the child is protected. If parents are unable to agree on the future of their child, family court will make a decision based on the needs and desires of the child. The wishes of the child however are not determinative and often not truly considered unless the child is fourteen or older.

If you are the parent of a child and were never married to his or her mother or father, or you are in the process of a divorce, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney. This ensures your role in your child’s life is protected, especially if you are part of a non-traditional family.

If you need help in this area or have questions feel free contact attorney Concetta Spirio at 631-277-8844