Grandparents can be an integral part of a child’s life. Not only do they provide the benefit of their wisdom and unconditional love, but many are also the prime caregivers for the children of their children. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, more and more grandparents are raising their grandchildren due to situations where the parents are either deceased, absent or unable to provide primary care. According to statistics by the Illinois Department of Aging, more than 100,000 grandparents across the state are raising about 200,000 grandchildren. This reportedly represents an increase of more than 50% over the past 13 years.
The issues that lead to this situation are varied and include:
- Death of the parent or parents;
- Physical incapacitation of the parent or parents;
- Drug use by the parent or parents;
- Parental abandonment;
- Financial inability of the parents;
- Out of state employment;
- Military deployment; and
- Incarceration of a parent or parents.
When grandparents decide to take on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren they must make challenging decisions about the best way to legalize the arrangement. There are several alternatives available through the courts, but the best option depends on the specific circumstances of the situation and the desired level of parental control desired.
Grandparent guardianship is useful when the caretaker situation is temporary, meaning that the parent is intermittently in and out of the child’s daily living situation. This legal determination allows the grandparent the ability to make health-related decisions for the child, including the provision of insurance. Guardianship also allows a grandparent to enroll a child in school and make education decisions regarding the child. It essentially places the grandparent in the role of the primary decision maker when the parent(s) is absent. This option may be best used in situations where the parent is incarcerated for a short period of time or in a temporary financial struggle.
Custody generally gives the grandparent the right to make decisions regardless of the parents’ presence. With some exception, standing to file for custody requires that the child already be in the physical care of the grandparent on a more permanent basis. The grandparent then petitions the court for permission to essentially act as the parent. Though this route may prove more permanent than guardianship, it may still be modified if circumstances change. For example, if a drug addicted parent gets sober and cleans up her life, she may petition the court to modify the custody order and give custody back to her.
Adoption is the most permanent of the three alternatives and involves court-ordered determination of the grandparent as the “legal” parent of that child. In order to grant an adoption, the court must first permanently terminate the parental rights of both parents. This takes away all of their decision making authority. Adoption is not temporary and stays in place for the life of the child. It may prove a good fit for situations where the parent(s) is deceased or incarcerated for a majority of the child’s developmental years.
Grandparents’ rights in relation to child custody can prove challenging to assert. Rely on a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to assist you in the process. Contact the Law Office of Elizabeth J. Chacko, P.C. today for assistance with your case. Serving clients in Wheaton, Naperville and Downers Grove, our attorneys are available to assist you and your family.