Pennsylvania automatically gives grandparents the right to file for custody if the parents of the grandchildren are divorced, separated, or if one of the parents is deceased.
The public policy of the Commonwealth is to provide children with “continuing contact” with grandparents when a parent is deceased, divorced, or separated. 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5301. Additionally, Pennsylvania gives standing to grandparents with whom a grandchild has resided for twelve months or longer. 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5313.
After the grandparents file for custody, the court must determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to have time with the grandparents. Bucci v. Bucci, 506 A.2d 438 (Pa. Super. 1985). In order to obtain custodial time from the child’s parent(s), grandparents need only “convince the court it is in the child’s best interest to give some time to the grandparents.” Bucci, 506 A.2d at 438. The grandparents’ burden is lower than in a custody or partial custody case between two parents because “the amount of time that the child would be away from his parent is less.” Rigler v. Treen, 660 A.2d 111 (Pa. Super. 1995) (quoting Bishop v. Piller, 581 A.2d at 672 (Pa. Super. 1990)). Any time given to the grandparents must not interfere with the child’s relationship with the parent(s).
In determining what is in a child’s best interest, the court must consider the following factors: 1) the physical well-being of the child; 2) the intellectual well-being of the child; 3) the emotional well-being of the child; and 4) the spiritual well-being of the child. Johnson, 589 A.2d at 1160. Courts have previously found that having one more adult to love and care for a child would be in the child’s best interest. Bishop v. Piller, 581 A.2d at 670. Additionally, our courts have considered whether any concrete evidence was produced that there would be a detriment to the grandchild and they have observed that they “cannot overlook the ultimate result that grandparent visitation is beneficial for a child’s development in that it establishes family ties which can continue long beyond childhood.” Commonwealth ex rel. Miller v. Miller, 478 A.2d 670 (Pa. Super. 1984). Often a child’s emotional and intellectual development would be “enhanced through a growing relationship” with his or her grandparents. Id. At the same time courts are ordinarily careful in allocating grandparent visit time to respect the fact that parents are already juggling busy schedules and that parent time with children takes precedence over grandparent needs.