My grandmother was a critical part of my entire life. I could count on her to treat every one of my birthdays like it was Christmas. I remember when she would babysit and she insisted on watching the “the Archie Bunker show” (All in the Family) as she called it. I grew to like the show myself! While my grandmother played a big role in my life, it was up to my mom to raise me.
Yet, in the 21st century, we are finding a larger number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Imagine going from being an empty nester to raising a 5-year-old child. You do it out of love, but it is a major adjustment. Fortunately, there are many resources to aid grandparents who need to play more of a parenting role in the lives of their grandchildren. In this two-part series we will first look at how grandparents can utilize the court system to care for their grandchildren should they find themselves needing to do so. In the second part of the series, we will discuss some tips on how to best prepare to be a parent – the second time around.
In Connecticut, there are three different court systems that handle matters related to children. Each of them is different and having an understanding of these differences will help you decide the best course for your family. First, you have the Superior Court for Family Matters. This court hears “cases involving juveniles and family relationships. Typical cases include divorce, child custody, child support, relief from abuse (temporary restraining orders)” (See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). In this court, grandparents have very limited access to intervention. They may be limited to obtaining visitation with their grandchildren. In this court, it takes extraordinary circumstances to grant grandparent custody.
Secondly, there is the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. In Juvenile Matters, the court hears matters pertaining to “termination of parental rights; emancipation of a minor; delinquency; neglected or uncared for children and youth; families with service needs.” See https://www.jud.ct.gov/external/super/divisions.htm). As it pertains to child custody, the majority of these matters are a result of DCF filing an order of temporary custody or neglect petitions on behalf of a child or children. Once DCF takes custody of a child, it is under a strict time clock to find a permanent home for that child. This is where a grandparent will have easier access into a case and may petition the court to transfer custody or guardianship to the grandparent. The only issue is that DCF is a petitioner and they have to agree to the transfer, or a grandparent may find themselves going to trial against DCF. This is a hard task, but it is not impossible! It is important for a grandparent to be knowledgeable about child protection law and DCF policies so they know how to exercise their rights as a relative of the child. When dealing with DCF and the Juvenile Court, my strongest advice is to hire an attorney like me!
If you are a grandparent who is already caring for your grandchild, or you see that there is a need for you to step in given the parents’ struggle, the best place to go is the Probate Court for your town. (See http://www.ctprobate.gov/Pages/Directory.aspx) The Probate Court is sometimes unofficially referred to as “the people’s court.” The reasoning behind this nickname is that it is far less formal than Family Matters or Juvenile Matters. Individuals can walk in and be assisted by court clerks in filling out the appropriate forms based on their requests. The only parties to the case are the petitioner, the mother, the father, and the child through his or her attorney. DCF’s role is only to complete an investigation and make a recommendation. The grandparents can make a plea for temporary custody, co-guardianship, removal of guardian and termination of parental rights in extreme cases. The Judges listen to all the parties and the setting is usually more relaxed. The rulings have the same weight as in a family or juvenile court, but grandparents caring for children tend to have more sway.
Regardless of where you end up as a grandparent, please note that the courts in Connecticut can help. In every court, the best interests of the child are paramount over even the parents’ rights. If you believe you need to intervene on behalf of your grandchild please call our office to set up a consultation at (860) 461-7494 or reach out to one of these courts for assistance. The courts may not be able to help you figure out the Tik-Tok app, but they help you ensure that you can be a resource for your grandchildren!