The Custody Rights of New York Grandparents
The 2010 U.S. Census indicated that 4.9 million children under the age of 18 in this country are living in grandparent-headed households. Even for the majority of children who live with their parents, studies show that more grandparents than ever are providing day care to a grandchild on a regular basis and/or are assisting with their grandchildren’s daily living costs.
Despite the trend of increased support and involvement, under the law a grandparent’s right to custody or visitation is tenuous at best. Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Troxel v. Granville, which struck down a Washington State law permitting the courts to award grandparent visitation despite parental objections, states have been reluctant to give their courts the ability to interfere with the rights of parents to make decisions about how to raise their children. As a result, most state laws permit their courts to order grandparent visitation or custody only under very limited circumstances.
Under New York Law, grandparents may petition a court for custody or visitation only if:
- Either or both of the parents of the child are deceased, or
- Under exceptional circumstances, when it is in the best interests of the child
Once either of the above conditions is met, the petitioning grandparents must then overcome a presumption that the parents know what is best for their child. This involves convincing the court that visitation would be in the child’s best interests by, for example, demonstrating that the child has an established relationship with the grandparents and that the parent’s reasons for opposing visitation are unfounded.
In reality, grandparents have very little standing to request custody. In cases where the parent has voluntarily relinquished care of the child and the child lives in the grandparent’s house for at least two years, the grandparents may be able to petition for custody of the child. Courts may review individual cases where the child has lived with grandparents for less than two years, but custody is generally limited to cases where the grandparents can show clear abuse or neglect by the parent.
The courts’ highest priority when deciding custody is to determine what situation suits the best interests of the child. This includes grandparents – you may be able to win visitation or custody with the services of a highly experienced New York family law attorney. Call my office and I can help you determine whether you have a good chance in court.