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What legal issues do grandparents face with parental rights?

There are many reasons why grandparents invoke their rights during or after the divorce of their children. While in many cases this means seeking visitation rights, some grandparents might petition the court for the custody of their grandchildren. Because grandparents often play a major role in the lives of their grandchildren, grandparents' rights are recognized in New Mexico and other states in the nation. Despite these rights being afforded to grandparents, this does not make it an easy process to initiate or acclimate to.

According to the 2010 census, 11 percent of children under the age of 18 in the state of New Mexico are living in their grandparents' household. Additionally, more than 30,000 children in the state are living with their grandparents, with their grandparent being legally responsible for them. Of these children, 9,278 do not have a parent present in the home.

What are common legal issues faced by grandparents raising grandchildren? A common concern for grandparents in charge of grandchildren is establishing a formal legal relationship with the child. This could come in three forms: custody, guardianship or adoption.

Custody allows for a grandparent to take on the responsibility to support and care for the child. Guardianship means that the grandparent has the duty to care for their grandchild while he or she is taken away from their parents by the courts. Adoption allows for a grandparent to assume all the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent.

The legal relationship between a grandparent and grandchild could impact certain situations such as school enrollment, medical care, financial assistance and subsidies for guardianship and adoption. Additionally, grandparents could face legal issues regarding biological parents seeking visitation after their parental rights have been terminated. Lastly, grandparents might only raise their grandchild temporarily. This means that the child is placed back with their biological parent. When this occurs, grandparents might encounter issues when they seek visitation rights of their grandchildren.

While this list is not exhaustive, the above information touches on common legal issues or questions grandparents might encounter when they care for their grandchildren. Divorce often involves many legal issues, and many of these could greatly impact a grandparent who has stepped in to care for his or her grandchild. Because of this, grandparents should take the proper steps to become fully informed of their rights and options.

Source: AARP.org, "Raising Grandkids: Legal Issues," Amy Goyer, Accessed on Nov. 2, 2015

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