Legal solutions to family problems tend to require a very customized approach. Family disputes can arise between grandparents and their children (and in-laws) as to what might be best for their grandchildren and how they are to be raised and nurtured. Oftentimes, to protect a child’s best interests, a grandparent might seek custody of a grandchild. However, these cases are very complex, and grandparents face significant obstacles when seeking custody.

Common Issues in Cases Involving Grandparents’ Rights to Custody

Questions of grandparents’ rights to custody can be very contentious, particularly when a biological parent of a child opposes a grandparent’s decision to seek custody. Even if it becomes quite clear to the grandparent that the biological parent is unfit to care for the child, a legal dispute may arise. In New York, before the Court can even consider the best interests of the child, the Grandparent must first establish standing to seek custody by proving the existence of “extraordinary circumstances.”

Often these cases involve very sensitive matters such as domestic violence, abandonment, drug addiction and mental health issues on the part of the biological parent, amongst other facts.

When a case involving grandparents’ rights goes to court, the process to seek custody will involve multiple phases. If the grandparent is able to establish “extraordinary circumstances,” then the Court moves into the next phase and must make a custody decision based upon the best interest of the child.

The court process can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. It can also be difficult for grandparents to provide verifiable evidence in these cases. Such evidence may take many forms, ranging from reports from child welfare workers to evidence of physical or verbal abuse, drug testing, and testimony from mental health professionals and family members.

In a recent case, our firm represented a grandmother seeking custody of her grandchild versus the child’s father. The case went to trial in Family Court and involved allegations of substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health disorders and a prolonged period of time that the grandmother was caring for the child. Following a lengthy trial, the Family Court Judge found the existence of “extraordinary circumstances and, after considering what would be in the best interests of the child, awarded custody to the grandmother. The case was tried by our partner, Mitchell Y. Cohen, and the decision was affirmed on appeal this year. The child continues to thrive in the care of his grandmother.

In all of these matters, it is important to have sound legal counsel and representation every step of the way. Family issues often give rise to strong emotions, and it is best to have an attorney on your side to handle the legal proceedings in an effective manner, as well as protect your rights and the best interests of the child.