Can You Give Up Legal Custody of Your Grandchildren?

By Robin Elizabeth Margolis

Daughter with her unhappy parents

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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.

Custody Problems

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.

Get Help

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.

Legal Procedures

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.

Grandchildren's Parents

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.