By Sharon Oliver, Contributing Writer
REGION – One of the greatest joys in life is becoming a grandparent, but some of life’s circumstances can turn that joy into heartache due to no fault of the child. If the parent of a child dies or there is a divorce, this could cause a dilemma for the grandparent(s) especially if there is bitterness involved.
Unfortunately, it is the innocent parties who end up on the receiving end of such retribution. Scenarios where a child’s parent may deny grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren do exist. Notwithstanding, grandparents do have legal rights and can take the challenge to court.
Access to grandchildren
Shapiro Law Group, PC, with offices in Boston, Woburn, Needham and West Roxbury, handles cases for grandparents. Anna Shapiro, Esquire, of the firm stated, “Grandparents’ rights could be filed by either maternal or paternal grandparent. Generally, what happens is when two people are getting divorced, they technically just close all rights to the grandparents for each side.”
“They don’t want the children to see either the grandmother or grandfather from the mother’s side or the father’s side because they are already fighting and there’s always a lot of tension going on,” she explained. “So, grandparents do have rights in Massachusetts.”
There are typically two types of custody in the Commonwealth:
- Legal custody: Legal custody may be awarded to both parents and includes the right to make important decisions such as academics, health care and religion for the child.
- Physical custody: This is awarded to the parent who has the child for the majority of the time and who is largely responsible for providing the child with basic needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, and education.
In the state of Massachusetts, grandparents have the right to ask a court for visits if the parents are divorced, or married but separated pending a court order about the separation. Also if one or both parents are deceased or the parents were never married, living separately and there is proof of who is the child’s father.
However, grandparents on the mother’s side do not need to show proof of who is the father. They must be able to show at the hearing that their visits are in the child’s best interest, there is an established relationship, and it will be harmful to the grandchild’s health, safety, and welfare if visits are denied. They must also meet the harm standard, proving the child could suffer harm if contact is denied. Such cases can be hard to prove, but not necessarily so if a parent is neglectful or abuses substances.
Children at risk
If you fear a child is at risk, there are two government agencies you can visit to seek help.
- Probate and Family Court: Cases determining custody are a civil matter. If you feel your grandchild is at risk with their parents, gaining custody is accomplished with the Probate and Family Court through court orders. Depending on the situation, you can request temporary guardianship or permanent custody.
- The Department of Children and Families: If the child was orphaned through the death of their biological parents, the responsibility will fall on the Department of Children and Families to arrange for foster care. If you are willing to take your grandchild in, you will need to present your case and argue that you are the best and most suitable guardian to raise the child.
Financial aid for grandparents
Also, there is financial aid available for grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Your grandchild may be eligible for several financial aid programs. Grandchildren under age five may be eligible for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) aid which can help with basic food necessities.
Children of deceased parents may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. Your grandchild may likely be eligible for MassHealth insurance, which can include assistance in childcare or daycare and as grandparent, you might be eligible to apply for grantee relative benefits at the Department of Transitional Assistance.