If you are a grandparent currently raising your grandchild, or if you are worried about your child’s ability to safely parent your grandchild, here’s what you can do:
Seek Guardianship of Your Grandchild
If your grandchild’s parents are temporarily unable to care for your grandchild and they acknowledge it, you can pursue temporary guardianship. Becoming a legal guardian gives you the right (and responsibility) to provide for your grandchildren’s needs, such as school and medical treatment. Guardianship agreements are only available if the parents agree. And parents can revoke guardianship for any reason. Especially if substance abuse and/or addiction are involved, you probably need something stronger than a guardianship agreement.
Seek Custody of Your Grandchild
When parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for their children, grandparents can get custody. To get custody of your grandchildren, you must file a petition in Juvenile Court alleging that your grandchild’s parents are abusing or neglecting your grandchild, that your grandchild is in harm’s way in their care, and that you are prepared to raise your grandchild for the foreseeable future.
Obtaining custody is more difficult, legally and emotionally, than obtaining guardianship. Legally, you have to prove exactly what the parents have done to abuse or neglect your grandchild by clear and convincing evidence. If you are wondering what legally constitutes child neglect, click here.
Emotionally, you have to be prepared for the fallout in your relationship with your own child. At least initially, parents will likely be very angry at you for trying to remove your grandchild from them. That being said, some parents do come around, and use this as an opportunity to get their act together without the additional stress of raising children. If so, there may come a day where you can help them regain custody. Just make sure that when this time comes, you legally transfer custody through the court system. Trying to transfer custody informally could result in you being accused of abuse or neglect.
You also need to be prepared to raise your grandchild in the long term. While we all hope that parents will recover from the circumstances that lead to your grandchild’s removal, the reality is that many never do. Before you decide whether to seek custody of your grandchild, think about whether you are physically, financially, and emotionally prepared to raise a child again. If you aren’t ready to “start over” in this way, it may not be wise to pursue custody of your grandchild.
To learn about seeking custody in an emergency, click here.
Adopt Your Grandchild
Adoption is rarely the first step when dealing with an incompetent or addicted parent. In most cases, if you are worried about your grandchildren’s safety, you should first seek custody. However, if you already have custody, or if you’ve been the real parent for your grandchild for a long time, it may be time to pursue an adoption. Adoption has many benefits over simple custody. Adoption is permanent, and it comes with the same legal rights and responsibilities as biological parenthood. Once an adoption is finalized, you don’t have to worry about a biological parent coming back at some later time to re-take custody of your grandchild from you. Adoption also has important implications for things like social security benefits and estate planning that you should discuss with your attorney. To learn more about the benefits of adopting your grandchild, click here. On the other hand, adoption is legally difficult to obtain. Adoption requires that you permanently terminate the rights of both of your grandchild’s parents. To learn more about the grounds for termination of parental rights, click here.
How to Help Your Grandchild if You Can’t Personally Raise Them
It’s a terrible situation: You know that your grandchild is not safe with their parents, but you also know that you are not able to raise them. What can you do? If you know someone who is able and willing to raise your grandchild, whether that be a grandparent or other relative, you can support their petition for custody by being a witness for them in court. Your insight may convince the judge to quickly remove your grandchild from a dangerous situation, and by supporting a specific person’s petition, you at least know what will happen to your grandchild once they are removed.
If you don’t know anyone willing and able to raise your grandchild, your options are far more limited. One option is to petition the court for grandparent visitation rights. This at least allows you to keep an eye on your grandchild, but it won’t give you the right to intervene if you do discover they’re being abused or neglected. The other option is to call the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and tell them what is happening. If DCS decides to intervene, they will first try to locate relatives willing to take the child. If no one is available, they will place the child in foster care. Making a call to DCS is never an easy decision, as it severely reduces how much control you have over your grandchild’s destiny. However, if your grandchild is in a dangerous situation, it may be the best way to help them. If your grandchild is placed in foster care, ask their caseworker if you may send them letters, packages, or potentially even visit with them. This allows your grandchild to keep connections with family while in foster care.
These are tough decisions. You should not make them alone. If you are facing addiction or worried about your grandchild, give us a call. We are here to help.
This blog was written by Held Law Firm’s juvenile and adoption attorney, Chelsea Price.