So You Have Custody Of Your Grandchild – Now What?

Today, more and more grandchildren are being raised by grandparents for a variety of reasons. Death, illness, or drug abuse can all require changes in how your grandchildren are reared.

But what rights do you, the grandparent, have with regard to raising your grandchild? Schools and medical providers want proof that you have the right to make decisions and speak for the grandchild's interests. There are a number of ways to obtain such rights.

Ohio law was changed in July 2014 to enact the "Grandparents Caretaker Law" under Ohio Revised Code (RC) 3109.52, which provides two methods by which non-custodial grandparents can obtain caretaker rights relatively simply.

First, if you are non-custodial but need rights as to schooling or medical care, the parent can sign a caretaker power of attorney to grant the grandparent with whom the grandchild is residing "the care, physical custody and control of the child, including the ability to enroll the child in school, to obtain from the school district educational and behavioral information about the child, to consent to all school-related matters regarding the child, and to consent to medical, psychological or dental treatment for the child." A parent can only grant this authority under certain hardship circumstances like serious illness, homelessness or the death of one parent, and only if the grant is in the best interest of the child. This power of attorney does not convey legal custody and does not affect parental rights in the future The form is available as a part of the statute. It must be witnessed and notarized, and filed with the local county juvenile court within five days.

Second, if the parents cannot be found after a good faith effort was made to find them, RC 3109.52 allows the non-custodial grandparent to sign a caretaker authorization affidavit stating that the parent is not available and the grandparent is granted the same rights as quoted above. The affidavit form is also available as a part of the statute. The form must be signed, notarized and filed with the local county juvenile court within five days.

Either of these two documents terminate after one year, if the child stops living with the grandparent, by court order, the death of grandparent or grandchild, or revocation.

What about when your child is permanently out of the picture and you need actual legal custody, especially if the above two methods are no longer available? This normally involves either legal guardianship or adoption. Either method involves a court process.

For legal guardianship, an application must be made in the local county probate court. For a minor, the guardianship can be limited and the parents don't have to give up parental rights. The court papers grant the grandparents the rights as noted in the quote above. The guardianship must be in the best interest of the child and the grandparent must be the best person to act as guardian. The guardianship generally ends at age 18.

The alternative is an actual adoption of the grandchild. This is also a probate court action to terminate the parents' parental rights. You become the parents and the birth certificate is reissued. This process is much more involved and includes a petition, proper notices to the parents, and a home study.

In order to decide which option is right for you, visit an attorney who is well versed in these matters. Even though the circumstances under which a grandparent takes custody of a grandchild may be unfavorable, the outcome can be great. Both you and your grandchildren can grow, flourish and learn from each other.