In modern day America, more and more grandparents are involved in the daily responsibilities associated with raising their grandchildren, than ever before. Grandparents who assume this very important role, are “Heros!” According to a variety of reliable sources, as many at 10% of all grandparents are involved in assuming parenting duties over their grandchildren. Meeting the physical needs of grandchildren is only a small part of what it takes to raise a grandchild. There’s also the issue of educating children and teaching them the important lessons of life, as “role models.”
When a grandparent enters the picture and begins to assume a parenting role, it is usually done to “rescue” their grandchildren from one or both parents, who lack the ability to parent these children. Seldom does a grandparent give a great deal of thought to the concept of stepping in, where one or both parents, can not. Of prime concern, I have often heard grandparents tell me that “safety” was their number one worry. Grandparents who worry about the safety of a grandchild, feel that it is there obligation to shelter their grandchildren and give their grandchildren a safe and loving environment. Whether out of necessity or for the purposes of coming to the rescue of grandchildren who are in dire need, a grandparent’s role in these kinds of matters can never be underestimated.
Factors Influencing Primary Custody
There are many significant factors that have occurred in the past 25 years that have contributed to grandparents assuming the primary role in raising grandchildren. Some obvious events that I have seen in my law practice that have contributed to grandparents raising their grandchildren, are illustrated below:
- One or both of the biological parents have died.
- A parent has abandoned the children and can not be located and has not provided financial support for their children, and but for the grandparents, the children would not have the necessities of life, or would become wards of the state.
- One or both parents suffer from drug or alcohol abuse, or have been arrested or convicted of a serious crime and lack the ability to properly care for their children. An even greater concern exists where there has been Domestic Violence in the home or if a parent is a perpetrator of a Sexual Offence.
- A parent has lost their job, can not find suitable employment, or becomes disabled, either physically or emotionally.
- The parents are very young, still in school or lack the kind of maturity it takes to raise a child.
Grandparents who assume the role of a “parent” in raising their grandchildren usually do so because of their sense of duty to both their children, and to their grandchildren. It is a commitment that may last for many, many years. Undoubtedly, it is a financial burden to grandparents who thought that their years of financial sacrifice on behalf of their children, had come to an end. I always recommend that a lot of thought be given about the role that a Grandparent would assume if a judge granted a Grandparent’s requests. Parenting professionals such as therapists and mental health practitioners have recognized the significance of Grandparents’ active role in their grandchildren’s lives in bringing stability at a time of crisis.
In Colorado, there are essentially two (2) distinct laws that deal with Grandparent Rights. Those laws are as follows:
Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-123 and
Colorado Revised Statute 19-1-117
Under Colorado Revised Statute Section 14-10-123, there are specific facts that must be established and proven in order for a Grandparent to obtain a Court Order granting the grandparents, “parental rights.” When these specific facts are alleged and proven, grandparents request that the judge enter orders giving the grandparents the right to have parenting time and/or residential custody over a grandchild, as well as decision making. This type of case would fall within those cases called, “Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.”
Under Colorado Revised Statute Section 19-1-117, there are strict rules in place for when a grandparent can obtain a Court Order for Visitation of grandchildren. This means that the grandparent rights under this law are limited to visits only.
Example Case of Grandparents Assuming Primary Custody
Several years ago, I was involved in a case where the parents had both been long time abusers of illegal drugs. The parents had a history of meth use that diminished their ability to properly care for their two young children, often times leaving the children under the temporary watch of the Grandparents, while the parents would disappear for days on end. In many cases where a parent is using drugs, their addiction causes them to be unaware of a child’s needs or what it takes to care for a child because the parent is too consumed with their addiction. Because of the highly addictive nature of meth use, the parents really had lost their capacity to watch the children. As time went on, the parents role became less and the role of the Grandparents became, greater. The parents would see the children only sporadically, sometimes lasting for just short periods of time. The food shopping, clothing, doctor and dental appointments and daily care, fell in the laps of the Grandparents. More importantly, the Grandparents provided a, “safe haven” for the children, who were taken in by the Grandparents and given their own sleeping quarters, beds, toys, etc. Under the guidance of the Grandparents the children were well cared for. Ultimately, both parents were sentenced to prison because of pending drug charges in criminal court. At the Final hearing, the Grandparents were awarded sole parental responsibilities and decision making authority. I specifically remember, the judge congratulating the grandparents on taking on the responsibilities of raising their grandchildren, who became happy and well adjusted under the care administered by the grandparents.
It is always a wise idea to consult with an experienced Family Law lawyer when considering what legal course of action should be taken under Colorado law, for a Grandparent wanting to take an active role in either parenting a grandchild or obtaining visitation rights. I always suggest that grandparents become aware of the legal requirements for a grandparent case and that they read articles and materials that are available on this subject, from many sources. There are also a number of professionals that can be consulted to assist Grandparents in these kinds of cases.