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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: July 26, 2017 04:24 PM
From: Senator Donald C. White
To: All Senate members
Subject: Expanding Legal Standing in Custody Cases

I plan to introduce legislation which will amend Section 5324 of Title 23 (Domestic Relations) to expand legal standing for individuals seeking to gain custody of children where both biological parents are absent, whether due to death or for other reasons. This proposal is especially relevant for individuals/relatives that are increasingly assuming the role of primary caregivers due to the opioid and heroin epidemic in the Commonwealth.

While this bill includes other individuals, it is most pertinent in cases that involve grandparents. When the legislature amended the grandparent custody and visitation statute in 2010, a grandparent’s right or “standing” to file for custody of a grandchild became more limited, essentially removing what was once an automatic right based on their familial relationship.

As a result there have been instances where both parents are absent (deceased or missing) and although the grandparents had been involved throughout the child’s life, they do not meet the current conditions under the law to have the right to pursue custody. Ironically, a third party (i.e. a boyfriend or girlfriend of a deceased parent) who resided with the child and was acting in “loco parentis” (performing parental duties) would have the right to file for custody.

My legislation would give standing to an individual that has a sincere concern for the children, but do not meet the current conditions in the custody law. Under this proposal, a section would be added to allow individuals (including grandparents or other relatives) to file for physical or legal custody if no biological or adoptive parents have custody of the child and the individual assumes or is willing to assume responsibility. Additionally, the individual would have to have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child which could be demonstrated by the nature, quality, extent and length of their involvement in the child’s life, including financial support and/or whether they previously performed parental duties.

It is important to note that “standing” is a preliminary step that determines only which parties can be in the courtroom pursuing custody. In a custody trial the court considers the “best interests of the children” and takes into account the children’s relationship with all of the parties.

Please join me in expanding the custody rights of individuals who want or need to provide children in need with a stable and loving home. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Anne Achenbach, of my staff, at 7-4404 or aachenbach@pasen.gov.

Introduced as SB844