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In every state, courts have recognized that grandparents have an interest in the well being of their grandchildren. However, each state has different rules when it comes to awarding shared custody rights to grandparents. Courts generally will look to the grandparents to take custody, at the grandparent's request, if the parents have terminated custody, or died. When it comes to sharing custody, in states that allow this, courts look to various factors to see if shared custody is in the best interest of the child.
There are different ways for grandparents to share custody. For instance, a grandparent can be awarded either legal or physical custody, or both. Grandparents and parents can also agree to nearly any sort of shared custody arrangement, sharing both physical and/or legal custody. Additionally, courts may also award grandparents with visitation rights.
Visitation Rights of Grandparents
While many states do not have rules directly related to when a grandparent can be awarded visitation rights, every state has dealt with the issue. Like most any legal issue, each state has its own method of determining whether and when to grant grandparent visitation. Generally, the courts will first look to whether the parents of the child object to the grandparents being awarded visitation. If the parents object, then the court is likely to find that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child.
When one or both parents are out of the picture, either due to the death, or termination of parental rights, the grandparent of the deceased/terminated parent may seek to obtain visitation (if allowed in their state). Grandparents generally do have some legal options. Courts will look to whether granting visitation to the grandparent of the deceased parent will be in the best interest of the child, or conversely, whether not awarding visitation would cause the child harm. Another factor the courts look to is whether the grandparent and child have an existing relationship already.
Is Shared Custody for Grandparents Possible?
Courts usually are not going to award custody to a grandparent unless something has happened to the parents that would necessitate such an action. In these circumstances, the court will look to award full custody to one set of grandparents. If a child's only parent is incarcerated, or the child is placed in foster care, grandparents may step in to take temporary legal and physical custody. Additionally, grandparents can become foster parents, or can become a child's legal guardian while the child is in foster care.
However, shared custody agreements can be reached between parents and grandparents out of court. These arrangements can allow for both physical custody and legal custody to be shared in any way the parent(s) and grandparent(s) see fit. If a grandparent believes that the parents are unfit, some states will allow a grandparent to seek full custody. However, even then, a court is likely to make the order temporary, allowing the parent(s) to regain custody once conditions are met.