Child Custody Laws: Grandparent Vs. Mother

By Mike Broemmel

Updated November 28, 2018

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Situations exist when the rights of a mother and the potential rights of a grandparent regarding child custody conflict, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law. Family law statutes in all states set out the parameters for child custody rights for parents and grandparents.


The basic standard applied in child custody disputes in all jurisdictions in the country is what is in the best interests of the minor, according to Cornell Law School. Although parents and possess certain custody rights, the bottom-line focus of any custody proceeding is determining what arrangement satisfies the best interests of the child. In some states grandparents also possess visitation rights, subject to the same standard.

Custody Considerations

A mother's custody rights nearly always take precedence over those of a grandparent. The only exception is if the mother is deemed unfit or unable to serve as the primary caretaker of a child. In that situation, a grandparent is in a position to seek custody of the child.


Custody and visitation operate in tandem. For example, a grandparent without custody may win visitation rights in some situations. Not all states recognize a grandparent's right to visitation, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law. States that do permit this type of visitation normally limit grandparent visitation to situations in which the parents are divorcing, or have divorced or died. Generally speaking, a grandparent cannot seek visitation if the parents are married.

Time Frame

If a grandparent wins custody of a child over a mother, the time frame that the arrangement is in place varies from case to case. In cases where a mother loses custody because of an allegation of improper care of the child, the ultimate goal is to reunite the child with his mother. Custody with the grandparent is intended as temporary.

Expert Assistance

Custody-related issues represent challenging aspects of family law. Facing a case involving issues surrounding a mother's or grandparent's custody rights, retaining a lawyer typically is a wise decision. The American Bar Association provides resources designed to assist mothers or grandparents in finding legal representation in custody matters.