The definition of family in the United States has evolved greatly and a one-size-fits-all characterization doesn’t exist. With the changing composition of American families, it is common for extended relatives and grandparents to step in and parent when the biological parent is absent or unable to fill the parenting role. Stepping up to raise a child can be rewarding, but can also carry uncertainty—depending on the circumstances.
For grandparents, or relatives looking to have greater access to minor children in the family, the uncertainty is compounded. We are frequently contacted by relatives seeking answers to their questions about their rights and what considerations should be made in regards to children in their families.
One of the most common questions comes from grandparents providing childcare for their grandkids whose parents are unmarried. We frequently hear: “I care for my grandchild while my son works. My son and the child’s mother aren’t married. The mother sometimes stops by and wants to take the child while I am watching them. What are my rights?”
This question requires additional information to provide an accurate answer. Generally speaking, both legal parents will have equal rights over the child unless or until the court awards one parent greater rights than the other. If no court order exists that specifically outlines when the child is to spend time with the respective parents, then either parent can take the child from the non-parent on demand.
However, if the parent has a current court order allocating specific parenting time, then the other parent cannot take the child on demand. To illustrate this using the above example: If the grandparent is watching their son’s child during the time that the court order grants him parenting time, then the child’s mother cannot take the child at will.
If a court order outlining whom is to have the child exists, it can be useful to keep a copy of the court order on hand while the child is in your care. It is possible that multiple court orders may exist and they may be contradictory. It is always advisable to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney for specific guidance for your unique circumstances in regards to family law matters.
Another common concern raised by grandparents involves extended stays while the parents are away. Grandparents often ask what they should do to make sure they have the authority to make the necessary decisions on behalf of the child during the parent’s absence. This situation frequently arises when a single-parent is deployed by the military or when parents travel for extended periods of time and leave the child under the care of a grandparent.
If you will be watching a grandchild for an extended period of time it is possible that being authorized as the child’s temporary power of attorney is advisable. In Oregon, parents can give others the right to take care of their child for up to 6 months at a time. Granting temporary power of attorney will not forfeit the parent’s rights, but it will allow a temporary caretaker to make the necessary decisions to preserve the child’s well being.
It is not required to involve the courts to grant temporary power of attorney. However, it is essential to understand the implications of giving decision making power to another person. The choices of that individual may carry high costs and have serious financial consequences. For that reason it is important to speak with an attorney to ensure that the document grants the appropriate power. An experienced Oregon family law attorney can help you determine what your unique situation requires and draft the necessary documents.
Once power of attorney is granted, the parent can revoke the power of attorney and has the right to take the child back at any time. If no time frame is specified the power of attorney will expire after 6 months.
These are only a few of the facets of grandparents (third party) rights. It is important to note that Oregon has a “third party custody” statute that provides for an involved party to pursue court ordered visitation or custody. This statute is not reserved for only grandparents, but other individuals as well. We will cover this particular statute in a future blog post.
The topic of grandparents’ rights is broad and covers a wide range of subjects —and extends beyond just grandparents. If you have questions about grandparents’ rights, third party custody, or any other family law issue, please give us a call. Our managing attorney, Colin Amos, is happy to provide you answers over the phone at no charge and no obligation. (503) 731-8888