10 Powerful Reasons a Grandparent Can File for Custody: Expert Insights

Occasionally, situations arise when grandparents need to pursue custody of their grandchildren. 

When parents are unable or unwilling to provide suitable care for their children, grandparents have the right to seek custody of their grandchildren. 

Tim’s Legal Tip: Grandparent custody cases are always charged with intense emotions as it typically requires the grandparents to accuse their child of being an unfit parent. 

10 Reasons Grandparents Can File for Custody of Their Grandchildren 

1. When the Parents Are Unfit

When the parents are deemed unfit due to issues like substance abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, grandparents can step in to provide a stable and nurturing environment for their grandchildren. 

This often involves proving the parents’ inability to ensure the child’s well-being, which can be a challenging but necessary step for the sake of the child.

2. Tragic Loss of Parents

In heartbreaking situations where both parents pass away or cannot care for their child, grandparents may step in to offer a loving home. 

This provides a sense of continuity for the child during a difficult time, allowing them to remain connected to their family.

3. Protecting the Child from Harm

If a grandparent suspects that their grandchild is in danger or facing abuse in their current living situation, they can seek custody to protect the child’s safety and well-being. 

4. Parental Incarceration

When a parent is incarcerated, grandparents can step in to provide a nurturing environment for the child. This can help the child maintain a sense of normalcy while their parent serves their sentence.

5. Substance Abuse Rehabilitation

If a parent is actively working through substance abuse rehabilitation, grandparents might temporarily seek custody to ensure the child’s well-being during this challenging period. 

This arrangement can provide stability and support until the parent can fully care for their child.

6. Voluntary Relinquishment

In some cases, parents voluntarily relinquish their custody rights due to personal circumstances. This can be a situation for grandparents to assume custody, offering the child a familiar and loving environment.

7. Domestic Violence Concerns

When there are concerns about domestic violence within the child’s household, grandparents can file for custody to remove the child from an unsafe environment. This move reflects the grandparent’s commitment to the child’s safety and emotional well-being.

8. Cases of Child Protective Services Intervention

When Child Protective Services (CPS) steps in and removes children from their parents’ care due to concerns about the children’s safety and well-being, it can create a situation where grandparents might seek custody. 

In such cases, grandparents may be considered potential caregivers if the parents cannot provide their children with a safe and stable environment.

CPS intervention usually occurs when there are allegations of abuse, neglect, or other serious concerns about the children’s welfare. 

If CPS determines that the parents’ home is not suitable for the children, they will remove the children and place them in foster care or with a relative, such as grandparents, if it’s deemed to be in the children’s best interests.

9. The Child Wants to Live With The Grandparents

When a grandchild expresses their desire to live with their grandparents during a custody case, the court considers their preference, but it’s not the sole determining factor. 

The court considers various aspects to decide what arrangement is in the child’s best interests. The child’s age and maturity are assessed to gauge their capacity to make an informed decision. 

Their reasons for wanting to live with their grandparents are examined – a well-reasoned preference holds more weight. 

The quality of relationships with parents, grandparents, and family members is evaluated, along with each living situation’s stability and well-being. 

Parental fitness, child safety, educational prospects, and social considerations all play a role. 

Ultimately, the court’s objective is to ensure the child’s welfare, and while the child’s preference matters, it’s part of a broader evaluation that includes expert opinions and additional evidence. 

10. The Parents Are Missing or Have Abandoned The Grandchild

In cases where the parents are missing or have abandoned the child, grandparents have grounds to seek custody, as they can step in to fill the parental void and offer a stable environment for the child. 

Legal Rights of Grandparents

Grandparents’ rights to obtain custody of their grandchildren will vary significantly from state to state. While all 50 states permit grandparents to seek some form of visitation with their grandchildren, not all states authorize grandparents to seek custody.

In essence, custody rights over a grandchild are not inherently granted to grandparents. However, depending on the state and specific circumstances, grandparents are entitled to petition the court for custody of their grandchildren. 

As a grandparent, it’s essential to understand your state’s laws on grandparent custody rights. I recommend seeking advice from a well-respected family law attorney in your area. 


Q. What if the child’s parents object to the grandparent’s custody petition?

If the parents object, the court will consider all factors to determine the child’s best interests. The court’s decision will ultimately prioritize the child’s well-being.

Q. Can grandparents seek visitation rights if they are unable to obtain custody? 

Yes, in situations where custody is not granted, grandparents can often seek visitation rights to maintain a connection with their grandchild.

Q. Who pays child support if the grandparents have custody?

In many states, when grandparents have legal custody, they have the right to request child support from one or both biological parents. 

This can help offset costs associated with raising the child, such as schooling, medical, and general living expenses.

Q. Can grandparents have joint custody with the parents? 

Yes, grandparents can have joint custody with the parents in some situations. 

Some common situations when a court will grant joint custody to grandparents along with parents include the following:

  • The parents are very young or inexperienced, and the grandparents are actively involved in raising the child.
  • There are concerns about the parents’ ability to care for the child due to substance abuse, mental health issues, or other reasons, but the court deems it in the child’s best interest to maintain a relationship with the parents.
  • Both the parents and grandparents have been actively involved in the child’s upbringing, and it’s considered beneficial for the child to continue relationships with both parties.

Click Here for a Comprehensive Guide on Grandparent Joint Custody Rights. 


Navigating the legal process of obtaining custody as a grandparent is complex and emotionally challenging. I highly recommend seeking legal counsel if you find yourself in this situation. 

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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