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All information presented in this website is general information only and should not be acted upon without professional assistance. Because state laws vary, the following information is intended to be helpful in understanding basic legal issues. It is always advisable to seek professional legal advice in your area for any specific situation.

The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center serves as a national legal resource in support of grandfamilies within and outside the child welfare system. (This is a very helpful website).

Finding Legal Assistance: Many grandparents find themselves in need of legal advice and assistance when it comes to decisions concerning their grandchildren. Finding a good attorney with experience in non-parental custody cases is preferred. When hiring a lawyer is not affordable, there is self-help information available. It may be possible to obtain legal forms and sometimes assistance with filling out the forms. Contact your local legal aid office, local court facilitator, law school clinic, or local bar association to find out if there is help in your area with obtaining and filling out appropriate forms. Check out our Internet Resources page on this website for helpful links, or go to the American Bar Association website for a directory of legal aid offices  http://www.americanbar.org

Your Department of Social Services or Department of Children and Families may be able to direct you in the right direction. Different states may call the same services by different names, so be prepared to explain to someone exactly what your situation is and what you are needing in order to get directed to the proper department.

Powers of Attorney: A parent can create a power of attorney giving another individual, such as a grandparent, the authority to make specific decisions regarding their children. This can allow the grandparent or other kinship caregiver to seek medical attention for a child or enroll the child in school. Powers of attorney are common when parents are in the military and may be called away from home leaving the children to be cared for by family members or friends. They are used for many purposes but can be especially helpful and simple when grandparents are raising grandchildren, and there is a cooperative and amicable relationship between the child's parents and grandparents. The power of attorney does not remove the parental rights of the parent and can be revoked by the person who created the power of attorney.

Medical Consent: At least twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical consent legislation, which allows the child's parent to authorize another adult to obtain medical treatment for children in their care. The parents sign a simple document that health care providers must honor.

Legal Custody: A grandparent may seek legal custody of their grandchildren for numerous reasons. The simplicity or complexity of this will depend on individual circumstances and whether or not both the parents and grandparents agree that the children should be in the custody of the grandparents. Legal custody is awarded by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and is not merely a written agreement between two parties. If both parties are not in agreement, the grandparent or other relative must prove to the court that it is in the best interest of the child or children to be raised by someone other than the parent.

If neglect or abuse of a child is suspected, it should be reported to the Department of Social Services. It is also important to record and document any reasons why a child should be removed from the custody of his or her parents. This is not a decision that a court makes lightly and supporting evidence must be presented by a relative when seeking custody of a child.

When a person or couple becomes the custodian of a child, this does not legally sever other family relationships as in the case of adoption and may be reversed at a later time when circumstances change.

When seeking custody of a grandchild, the safest way is of course to hire an attorney to do the work for you. There will be plenty for you to do in assisting your attorney. If you can not afford an attorney and are obtaining the forms and filing them yourself, do your homework and know what you are doing. Keep in mind if you are asking someone else to help you fill out the form correctly, not just anyone can help you fill out a request for custody form. They could be accused of practicing law without a license. So make sure if you have assistance with filling out the form, the person has the legal authority to help you. You might try and contact any type of grandparents raising grandchildren support group or program in your entire state to see if anyone has any suggestions for you. Some states do have programs to help grandparents with the forms. Contact your local legal aid office or local law school to see if they have a program to help. Do not simply ask a law student to help. The person must either be certified to help with these forms or be an attorney. Make a lot of phone calls and ask a lot of questions if you must do this yourself without your own personal attorney.

Guardianship: The term guardian is often used loosely and may merely refer to someone who is caring for a child by the authority given in a power of attorney, or it may be much more complex. If a parent or both parents die leaving a child with an inheritance, the child may be raised by one family member while someone else is appointed by the circuit court to be the legal guardian of the child's estate. The most common type of guardianship for a child is called a standby guardianship, which is used for a child who has a disability and in the event the parent is not able to care for the child. Check with a local attorney, your Legal Assistance office, or your State Department of Aging for further information on Guardianship of Children.

Adoption: The actual adoption of grandchildren by grandparents or other family members is less common than legal custody. When a legal adoption takes place, all previous legal family ties are severed. When an adoption takes place the person or couple adopting the child or children become the legal parent/s and not merely the custodian acting as the parents.

Grandparent Rights: The process for Grandparents gaining visitation or custody of grandchildren varies with each state.For grandparents who are not raising their grandchildren but want legal visitation rights, no state automatically gives grandparents the right to visit with their grandchildren. Some states give grandparents the right to go to court and request visitation rights. Other states do not allow grandparents the right to even go to court over the matter. Check with a family law attorney to find out the position of your state. The best situation is when grandparents and the parents can work together for the benefit of the children. Learn more from AARP


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