Legal Issues for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

grandfather with grandchild

Legal Issues for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Grandparent Primary Caregivers on the Rise

Approximately 2.7 million U.S. families consist of grandparents raising grandchildren. That number has doubled since the 1970s, reports Psychology Today.

Many factors can prevent a parent from caring for their children for a time. These include military deployment, treatment for illness, addiction, or imprisonment. Recently the opioid epidemic seems to be a big factor in this rising number. In fact, some lawmakers have proposed legislation to create a federal task force to support primary caregiver grandparents.

We certainly see the desperate need for family care here in Greater Cincinnati. The Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCJFS) director said in September that we are facing “one of the most insidious health and safety epidemics” she has seen in 23 years working in the field of child welfare.

Perhaps find yourself raising a child or children of a relative. If so, you need to know your legal rights and privileges.


What is Kinship Care?

When a relative or long-standing family friend steps in to care for a child whose parents cannot or will not, the state of Ohio refers to the arrangement as “kinship care.” (Legal definitions, regulations, and practices can vary by state and by county.)

Children are fortunate when a relative is able to take care of them. According to Public Children Services Association of Ohio, “children and youth raised by a safe, familiar kinship caregiver have better outcomes than those children in unrelated foster care, including more regular school attendance, better grades and fewer community problems.”


Informal Arrangements Don’t Come With Legal Rights

Under the umbrella of kinship care, the legal relationship between the caregiver grandparent and their grandchild can vary quite a bit. It doesn’t matter how often a grandparent cares for their grandchild. Certain rights belong only to legal guardians.

Caregiver grandparents may be startled to run into certain obstacles. For example, they cannot make decisions about their grandchild’s health care or enroll them in school. They may also run into problems getting financial assistance for their grandchild’s needs, such as health insurance.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid getting government officials involved in your personal situation so far, it’s time to get proactive. Contact a local family attorney to pursue either physical or legal custody.


Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody vs. Adoption

On their website, HCJFS describes the different legal relationships available to grandparent caregivers. Again, terms may vary by county or state.

Physical custody essentially means they live with you. This status may qualify you for kinship benefits. These may include cash assistance, food assistance, child care assistance and more. Some kinship caregivers decide to become legal foster parents. Foster parent status may come with additional benefits and assistance but also with more regulations and oversight.

However, until you get legal custody — also referred to as legal guardianship — you won’t have full access to make many of the decisions on your grandchild’s behalf. Legal custody gives you a say in their health or education. If you do become a legal guardian for your grandchild, you’ll have the same legal rights as parents.

Finally, some grandparents may choose to pursue a full legal adoption of their grandchild or grandchildren. An adoption terminates the rights of the child’s biological parents and closes the case in the eyes of the government.


How a Lawyer Can Help

It’s hard to imagine more stressful situations than the ones surrounding child custody. We understand that at Brandabur and Bowling.

Our attorneys have been representing individuals involved in child custody issues for more than fifteen years. We have the legal knowledge, trial experience, and maturity to make sure your needs are met during what could possibly be the most difficult time of your life.

Whether you want physical custody, legal custody, a full adoption or just want to discuss which route would be right for you as a grandparent, please contact us at (513) 892-3400.


The following links can provide you with additional information.

Help 4 Seniors: information on kinship care

AARP Grandfamilies Guide

Raising Your Grandchildren


PHOTO: kk0699 / CC0 Public Domain

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