Grandparents’ Custody Rights in Maryland
What custody rights do grandparents have in Maryland? There is no one-size-fits-all answer as it depends on the situation.
Keep reading to learn more about grandparents’ custody rights in Maryland. Then, call Coover Law Firm, LLC at (410) 553-5042 for assistance.
Grandparents Are Considered a Third Party Under Maryland Law
Under Maryland law, grandparents are considered “third parties.”
A third party is someone who is not the parent of the child. As a third party, a grandparent can petition for visitation or custody of the child, but whether they will have a chance at having their request granted by a Judge depends on the situation.
For instance, if the parent of the child objects to grandparent visitation, it will be hard to have the request for visitation granted.
However, if the grandparent can show that their absence from the child’s life will have negative effects on the child, then the Court may grant visitation.
This is similar to custody requests by grandparents. As a third party, you do not have the same rights to custody of a child that a parent does, but if you can prove that the parent is unfit to care for the child, you may have a chance of being granted custody of your grandchild.
Exception: Proving That You Are the “De Facto” Parent
Where there is a rule, there is often an exception.
The exception to the rule of a grandparent being considered a third party is that they are not considered a third party if they can prove that they are the “de facto” parent. (“De facto” refers to someone performing the role of a parent but who is not the legal parent.)
This can be difficult to prove. To be deemed a de facto parent, a grandparent must be able to prove that they act as the child’s parent under the parent’s consent or that the parent is unfit to care for the child. You must also prove that you have lived with the child, have performed the majority of parental duties, and have developed a parent-child relationship with the child over an extended period of time.
Essentially, if a grandparent wants to be considered a de facto parent of the child, they must prove to the Court that they are fundamentally a parent to the child.
Situations Where Grandparents Can Obtain Custody
Although it is not the norm, it is possible for grandparents to obtain custody of their grandchildren. Several situations may warrant the Court deciding in favor of grandparents in a custody petition.
These situations can fit into two categories: parental unfitness and exceptional circumstances. But what does that mean? Keep reading to learn more.
One situation in which a grandparent can obtain custody is if the grandparent can prove that the biological parent is unfit to care for the child. When the Judge is deciding whether or not a parent is unfit, they will consider several things:
- Did the parent neglect the child? More specifically, did the parent show a lack of care for the child’s wellbeing or inability to carry out basic parental functions?
- Did the parent abandon the child, leaving them without care?
- Did the parent harm the child through emotional, sexual, or physical abuse? Did they allow someone else to emotionally, sexually, or physically abuse the child?
- Does the parent suffer from a mental illness or disability that significantly impacts their ability to care for the child?
- Did the parent stop performing parental duties, or did they exhibit behaviors that would put the child in harm’s way?
This is not a full list, as parental unfitness is decided on a case-by-case basis. However, these are good baseline questions that can help determine if a parent is fit to raise their child.
Exceptional circumstances sometimes lead the Judge to decide that a grandparent should be granted custody of a grandchild. These circumstances may determine whether the grandparent should be granted custody of the child after the grandparent has cared for the child for some time.
Some examples of exceptional circumstances include:
- The amount of time the child has been away from the parent while being cared for by the grandparent
- How old the child was when the grandparent or other third party started to care for them
- How the change in custody will affect the child’s emotional wellbeing
- What the relationship between grandchild and grandparent looks like (How close is their bond and is that bond healthy or unhealthy?)
- How much the parent actually wants to be the parent and custodian of the child
- How long the grandparent cared for the child before the parent tried to take the child back
- The child’s potential future wellbeing under the care of the parent
These exceptional situations are considered by the Court and depend heavily on the specifics of the case.
In some cases, the grandparent may appear to be a better parent to the child than the biological parent in many ways. However, if it seems as though the change in custody will have a greater negative effect on the child than if they stayed with the parent, then the grandparent may not be granted custody.
In other cases, the parent may show genuine commitment to raising the child, but may lose custody to the grandparent because the child seems as though they would be insufficiently cared for by the biological parent in the long run.
Each case is different because every child has a different relationship with their parents and grandparents.
Concerned your grandchild isn’t being properly cared for by his or her parents? We can help.
If you are concerned that your grandchild is not getting the care they need and deserve under custody of their biological parents, don’t assume that grandparents have zero custody rights in Maryland. Coover Law Firm, LLC can help.
Mr. Coover is an experienced Howard County child custody lawyer who fights for the wellbeing of children by helping the best possible caregiver to win custody. He approaches each case with compassion and empathy and understands that working on custody cases requires a strong ethical stance.
Call Coover Law Firm, LLC today at (410) 553-5042 to schedule a case consultation and learn about your options.