Local community members have many different family structures. Different arrangements present unique family law issues that were not as common even a few decades ago. For example, there are many more cases of children being raised, in part or in whole, by their grandparents. In many cases a teenager or young adult may have a child and be unable to provide the care that the child needs. They may turn to their own parents for assistance. In other situations, there are sometimes adults who are unable to manage the responsibility of raising a child, whether it be because of financial difficulties, drug and alcohol dependency, or any number of other reasons. In these scenarios it is common for one or more of the child’s grandparents to take an active role in providing food, clothing, shelter, and a stable environment. Such arrangements differ greatly in how they are managed and the length of time that they exist.
Circumstances are constantly changing, and a parent who cannot provide a proper home one day may be in a different position a month, a year, or a decade later. Major conflicts can arise when a parent attempts to remove his or her child from a grandparent who has been acting as a parent. Naturally, the longer the grandparent has been caring for the child, the more difficult it usually is to find an easy solution to a potential custody dispute.
California grandparent adoption law allows a grandparent to turn to the justice system to gain permanent custody of a grandchild in certain situations. Usually, a grandparent must demonstrate that allowing the child to live with his or her natural parent would be a risk to the health, safety, and well-being of the child. For example, if the grandparent can prove that the parent is abusive or on drugs, then a court may terminate the parent’s rights and award custody to the grandparent.
Of course, biological parents can always sign over their rights as parents and allow the child’s grandparents to adopt. It is not uncommon for parents who have not had much contact with their children for an extended period of time to tell the grandparents that they will sign over their rights. However, as our Santa Rosa child custody attorneys know from experience, when it actually comes to voluntarily giving up their rights, parents often change their minds, which can lead to a difficult and painful custody battle.
At the end of the day, a court that is tasked with deciding whether to award custody to a parent or grandparent is almost always going to be faced with an extremely difficult choice. All court battles are emotional, but few are more contentious than one where a relationship with a child hangs in the balance. Ultimately, the court must determine what is in the best interests of the child and will shape its decision around that question.
Community members heading into such a case must be prepared for a grueling fight that may leave broken relationships. Having an experienced advocate is essential to ensuring that rights are protected and no legal stone is left unturned. The fact that the law in this area focuses on the “best interest of the child,” means that the court has much discretion, and the quality of the advocacy can make all the difference.
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