Can You Give Up Legal Custody of Your Grandchildren?
By Robin Elizabeth Margolis
One in ten of all American children now live with a grandparent, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center report. If you are a grandparent with legal custody of your grandchildren, you can give up custody for a wide variety of reasons.
Raising grandchildren can stress your health, income and time, and isolate you from your friends. You may have trouble managing problems caused by your grandchildren's learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, disruptive behavior disorder, addictions and crimes. You may have no choice but to remove teenage grandchildren from your home if they have emotionally, physically, financially or sexually abused you.
Before giving up custody of your grandchildren, consider getting counseling, a medical examination for both yourself and your grandchildren and other needed assistance, such as financial help. The federal government maintains a list of resource at its "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren" web page. Georgia State University hosts a National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren that offers links to all fifty states' resources for custodial grandparents on its "Grandparent Programs by State" web page. If your situation does not improve after seeking help, it may be time to relinquish custody of your grandchildren.
Finding New Guardian
Ask relatives and friends if any of them would be willing to assume custody of your grandchildren. Consider returning your grandchildren to their parents if the problems that caused transfer of custody to you have been resolved. Contact your state foster care service about putting your grandchildren in foster care if you cannot find any relatives or friends willing to serve as guardians. A relative can potentially become a kinship foster parent and receive reimbursement for the cost of caring for your grandchildren. Remember that you have the same right as your grandchildren's parents to turn your grandchildren over to the juvenile justice system if they are chronic runaways, committing crimes, addicted to alcohol or drugs or have abused you.
Each state has its own set of complex laws and legal forms governing guardianship and child custody. You may need to hire a family law attorney to guide you through the maze. Whether you obtained guardianship of your grandchildren through a juvenile court, a probate court or a family court, your lawyer can direct you to the court where you need to file a petition to be discharged from your guardianship. A family member or friend who wishes to become the new guardian can usually file a petition in that court to assume your grandchildren's guardianship.
If your grandchildren's parents are able to resume custody, they must first notify the court; you cannot simply return your grandchildren to their parents' home. If you legally adopted your grandchildren, you have replaced their original biological parents. When your grandchildren are turned over to a new guardian, you may have to pay child support until they reach the age of majority in your state or have finished college. You may have to pay child support after a grandchild reaches the age of majority if he has special needs.
- Pew Research Center: Since the Start of the Great Recession, More Children Raised by Grandparents
- Mentor Foundation: Grandparents in Custodial Care of their Grandchildren
- New York-Presbyterian University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- USA.gov: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- Georgia State University: National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- Southern Illinois University School of Law: Legal Issues for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Other Young Family Members
- Helpguide.org: Elder Abuse and Neglect
- The Probate Courts of Connecticut: Guardianship of Minors
- New York State Office of Children and Family Services: Requirements to Become a Foster Parent
- Superior Court of California County of San Diego: Guardianship Frequently Asked Questions
- American Bar Association: Family Law in 50 States
- District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General: Impact of Change in Custody on Child Support
Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology, a master's degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.