Senator White Helps Promote Grandparents’ Custodial Rights

Senator Don White helped kick off a new public education program to inform grandparents of their expanded right to seek custody of their grandchildren during a press conference in the State Capitol on Tuesday (October 2). Listen

Senator White, author of Act 21 of 2018, helped the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) launch the “Understanding When Grandparents and Others Can Seek Custody” public information campaign.

As a result of the opioid epidemic sweeping the state, more and more grandparents, other family members and neighbors are becoming primary caregivers of minor children when parents are absent. Recent statistics from Grandfamilies.org show that 103,000 children in Pennsylvania live with a relative with no parent present and more than 88,000 grandparents are householders responsible for their grandchildren who live with them.

Act 21 of 2018, which went into effect in Pennsylvania on July 3, 2018, expands custody rights for caregivers who find themselves in tragic situations like these provided they can show that they have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child.

“Too many lives have been tragically cut short by the opioid epidemic that is ravaging communities across the state and their children end up becoming caught up in the turmoil that ensues,” said Senator White.

Speaking at a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda, Senator White said he introduced his legislation after hearing the story of Calvin and Bobbie Farren of Indiana and their effort to take custody of their grandchildren after the passing of the youngsters’ parents.

“It was determined that the grandparents did not have standing to pursue custody because they did not meet the criteria under state law, as revised in 2010,” said Senator White. “There is an age-old adage that blood is thicker than water, but that simple truism wasn’t codified in the volumes and volumes of family law and the Farrens were treated as outsiders by the court. That’s just not right for the grandparents or the children.”

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.

PBA President Charles Eppolito III said Senator White’s measure makes a big difference in the lives of grandparents and grandchildren.

“This change in the law helps more grandparents and other caring individuals establish the right to pursue custody in the court system,” said Eppolito. “By educating residents across the state, we are hoping to play a role in connecting caretakers with the information and support they need to be able to make the right decisions for their grandchildren.”

As part of the Oct. 1-15 informational campaign, newspaper ads run under an agreement with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association will be placed in more than 80 newspapers across the state. In addition, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, a 30-second television and radio spot will be airing statewide and an informational brochure will be distributed by the PBA and participating county bar associations. The brochure and other resources are available on the association’s website at www.pabar.org.

 

Contact: Joe Pittman jpittman@pasen.gov