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Custody Rights of Grandparents in New York


When the relationship between parents falls apart, one the most difficult issues to deal with is child support. While most child custody cases center on determining how the parents of the child are going to share parental responsibilities, there are some cases where other relatives such as the child’s grandparents are involved in custody disputes. Generally speaking the courts will defer to the parents of a child to make parenting decisions. The case would have to be out of the norm for the courts to even consider awarding grandparents custody. For example, if there is evidence of parent abuse or neglect, then the court might determine that it is in the best interests of the child to be placed with grandparents. If you are seeking custody of your grandchild, it is important to contact an experienced New York child custody lawyer who will explain to you your legal options related to getting custody of your grandchild. We can also help you with related issues such as visitation and child support.

Grandparent Custody

Grandparents are not automatically entitled to custody. Courts prefer for children to stay with their parents if possible. There are circumstances in which a grandparent would have standing to petition for custody. Such circumstances must be so extraordinary that the parents’ fundamental to right to custody of their children is overcome. New York courts have recognized the following circumstances as grounds to grant standing to grandparents to petition for custody:

  • Parental fitness and ability to provide a safe home. In cases where a parent exhibits severe illness or struggles with substance abuse, affecting their ability to provide a secure home, grandparents may petition for custody, highlighting the parent's incapacity to ensure the child's well-being.
  • Abandonment. Grandparents can seek custody if a parent has abandoned the child, demonstrating the parent's lack of commitment or involvement in the child's life, necessitating a stable and caring environment.
  • Surrender. Instances of a parent surrendering custody rights or being neglectful or abusive towards the child provide strong grounds for grandparents to petition for custody, emphasizing the paramount need for the child's safety and care.
  • Strong psychological bond. If a profound psychological bond has developed between the child and the grandparents, disrupting this bond could significantly harm the child emotionally and psychologically, justifying a potential custody arrangement in favor of the grandparents.
  • Extended disruption of custody. When there is a history of extended disruption in the child's custody arrangement, the courts may consider granting standing to grandparents, aiming to provide stability and consistency in the child's life through custody with the grandparents.

Once the court determines that the grandparent has standing to petition for custody, the court must determine if granting the grandparent custody is in the best interests of the child.

As an experienced New York child custody lawyer can explain, the grandparent seeking custody has the burden of producing evidence that there are grounds for removing the child from parental custody. Evidence may include testimony from witnesses, mental health records, and documents. The court will not only review the parents to determine if they are fit to raise their children, they will also look at the grandparents to determine if they are fit. Courts will consider a number of factors including the physical and mental health of the grandparents.

If the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child for the grandparents to have custody, the custody order may not necessarily anticipate a long-term placement of the child with the grandparents. The custody order could be temporary custody. In cases where the court denies the grandparent’s petition for custody, the grandparents may be granted visitation.


In the case of SS v. SS. 23 N.Y.S.3d 406 (N.Y. App. Div., 2016), the paternal grandmother of a child sought custody. The child’s mother and father were married, but the marriage broke down amid allegations of domestic violence. The mother left the marital residence and moved into a domestic violence shelter, leaving the child in the grandmother's care. The Family Court awarded legal and physical custody of the child to the grandmother with limited parenting time to the mother. The Family Court later awarded the mother joint legal custody to be shared with the father and the grandmother. Two years later the mother petitioned for full custody of the child. The Family Court granted physical custody to the mother, joint legal custody to the mother and father, and allowed the grandmother and the father limited visitation and parenting time. The grandmother now appealed, seeking custody of the child. The court concluded that the grandmother did not present evidence of extraordinary circumstances that would overcome the parents’ superior right of custody. Even though the child lived with the grandmother for 3 years, the mother attempted to maintain a relationship with the child and to regain custody. The grandmother tried to thwart the mother’s attempts. At this point there are no longer extraordinary circumstances that would justify the grandmother getting custody of the child.

Process for Grandparent Custody

The legal process for grandparents seeking custody typically involves several steps. However the first step should be to contact an experienced child custody attorney in New York.

  • Filing a Petition for Custody. To initiate the legal process, the grandparents must file a petition for custody with the family court. The petition outlines the basis for seeking custody and presents evidence supporting the claim.
  • Court Hearings and Mediation. The court may schedule hearings to gather information, allowing both parties to present their arguments. Mediation may also be attempted to reach a mutually agreeable custody arrangement.
  • Trial and Custody Determination. If an agreement is not reached through mediation, a trial may occur, where both parties present their case. The court will then determine custody based on the child's best interests and the evidence presented.
Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

Grandparent custody cases in New York are emotionally and legally intricate matters. Understanding the circumstances that grant standing to grandparents, the legal process involved, and the factors influencing custody determination is essential. If you are a grandparent seeking custody or facing challenges in retaining custody, consulting with a skilled child custody attorney serving New York is crucial to ensure the best interests of the child remain the central focus in any legal proceedings. Reach out to us at Stephen Bilkis & Associates to schedule a consultation and let us help you navigate this legal journey effectively. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Nassau County, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.

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