Statistics show that grandparents in New Jersey and other states take care of as many as one in every ten children. This could be a significant challenge to grandparents who have not taken steps to formalize their statuses as care providers. Several legal options are available, including adoption and petitioning the court for child custody or guardianship. The latter is said to give the grandparents the legal rights they need to care for the child without going through the adoption process.
Guardianship is only awarded when it is in the best interests of the child, and although it does not typically terminate parental rights, court-ordered guardianship can prevent the parents from taking back the child without going to court. Depending on the circumstances, the court might award parental visitation rights, and, in many cases, the court holds parents responsible for financial support to be paid to the grandparents who are the appointed guardians. However, if the parents are incarcerated or if a child was removed due to substance abuse, the parents might not have the means to pay child support.
Once grandparents are appointed as legal guardians of their grandchildren, they are entitled to make decisions about the child’s education and medical care. These rights include decisions regarding psychiatric and psychological care. Guardians can also be held responsible for any misdeeds of the child, and although making their relationship legal, grandchildren can be removed from their care. Nevertheless, as legal guardians, their standing in the eyes of the law will be stronger than what it would be without such a court order.
Grandparents in New Jersey who have questions about their options in caring for a grandchild can discuss their concerns with a family law attorney. A lawyer who has experience in dealing with child custody, guardianship and other child-related issues can provide advice and explain options that are based on the unique circumstances of the family. Once the grandparents understand the legalities and the pros and cons of their choices, they can make decisions that will be in the best interests of the child.