Sen. White’s Bill Expanding “Standing” for Child Custody Now Law

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Senator Don White’s bill expanding the legal standing for third-party individuals seeking to gain custody in cases where no biological or adoptive parent has care and control of the child was recently signed into law. Senate Bill 844 was enacted as Act 21 of 2018 on May 4.

“This law gives legal standing to people who are sincerely concerned for these children, but simply do not meet the conditions set by Pennsylvania’s custody law,” said Senator White. “Under Act 21, third parties can file for legal custody in cases where the parents are deceased or absent, provided they can show that they have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child. In many cases, these people have already provided support and/or previously performed parental duties.”

Senator White said his measure also addresses the devastating toll of the opioid crisis on families across the Commonwealth, which can be especially heart-wrenching when it involves the innocent children of addicts who, because of their addiction, are unable to care for them.

“All too often, third-parties — especially grandparents — are called upon to care for the children of opioid addicts even though they currently have little to no legal standing under current state law,” said Senator White. “Act 21 will correct that and recognize in statute the role played by those caregivers.”

Senate Bill 844 received unanimous support when it was considered by the Senate and House of Representatives and was endorsed by organizations including the Center for Child Advocates and Pennsylvania Legal Services.

Senator White said that “standing” in a legal sense is a preliminary step that determines only which parties can be in the courtroom pursuing custody.  In a custody trial the court considers the “best interests of the children” and takes into account the children’s relationship with all of the parties. 

Act 21 also includes a provision under which grandparents and great grandparents may file an action for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody in cases where the parents of the child have commenced a proceeding for custody and do not agree whether grandparents should have custody. 

Contact:          Joe Pittman                 jpittman@pasen.gov