If your adult child is ending his or her relationship with your grandchild’s other parent, you are likely concerned about your ongoing role in the child’s life. The situation may be especially worrisome if your child does not have custody of your grandchild.

Under federal law, grandparent rights are secondary to parental rights. However, many states, including Pennsylvania, allow grandparents to seek legal visitation rights for their grandchildren.

The Grandparent Visitation Act

The state’s Grandparent Visitation Act allows grandparents to file for legal visitation only if the child’s parents are divorced, one or both of the child’s parents is deceased or the child has previously resided with the grandparent for at least 12 months. In addition, the grandparent making the request must demonstrate that an ongoing relationship with him or her is in the child’s best interest and will not interfere with the primary parental relationship.

How to seek visitation rights

Pennsylvania law refers to visitation as “partial physical custody” of a child. A grandparent who wants to seek legal visitation with a child must file for partial physical custody in the county where the child resides.

Although fees and forms vary by jurisdiction, the process is generally the same. You must create a petition for partial custody either independently or with the help of a family law attorney, or bring the relevant paperwork to the Clerk of Court of Family Court to seek further assistance.

Once you file the petition, you will receive notice from the court with your official hearing date. If you do not appear in court, the judge will dismiss the case. At this hearing, the judge will decide whether legal visitation with your grandchildren is in their best interest and establish an official visitation schedule.

Grandparents may file for full custody in Pennsylvania only in specific circumstances. The parent must have encouraged a relationship between the grandparent and child or this relationship has been ordered by the court, and the child must be at significant risk because of parental drug use, abuse or neglect.