The right to parent a biological child is guaranteed to every parent by the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, but that right does not apply to grandparents. However, it is common that parents and grandparents will come to an agreement for the grandparents to exercise custody or even adopt minor children.
This is the most common exchange of rights between parents and grandparents relating to minor children. Most of these scenarios involve parents who are very young and are not able to afford private health and dental insurance, do not have independent housing, are in school, or do not have a steady income. Many times, the parents and the children are living in the same home as the grandparents. To ensure that the minor children are able to be enrolled on health insurance, receive social security benefits, and be provided other financial and emotional security, it may be necessary for the parents to transfer custody of the children to the grandparents if these benefits are available to those grandparents.
This custody transfer WILL NOT terminate the rights of the biological parents. This is a very important distinction from an adoption, which is explained below. Though the parents will be awarded visitation, the parents are allowed to spend as much time with their children without supervision as allowed by the grandparents. It is only when the parents and grandparents disagree, that the visitation schedule becomes relevant. In situations where the parents and grandparents live together, there is virtually no change in time that parents spend with their children. The grandparents can certainly ask for child support, but that is rare because most understand that the parents are not able to pay, and grandparents’ primary concern is protection of the children.
After being awarded custody, grandparents are able to claim the children as dependents on taxes, sign the children up for medical insurance, name them as beneficiaries for social security benefits, enroll the children in school and many other tasks that biological parents are able to do.
The custody transfer process is very easy when the parents and grandparents agree, and relatively fast, taking only 2 to 3 months from the time of the initial consult with an attorney until the final order is entered by the judge.
Even when the parents and grandparents agree, the adoption process is permanent. Unlike custody transfers, which leave the possibility open of transferring custody back to the parents, once an adoption is complete, the process cannot be undone. The rights of the parents are terminated forever.
Because the results are far more permanent, there are additional safeguards that must be met in adoptions, including sending a copy of all of the adoption documents to the Department of Human Resources (DHR) in Montgomery via certified mail, and mailing a check for $25.00 to the Department of Public Health to change the child’s birth certificate.
There are other differences between adoption and custody transfer as well. For instance, a child over the age of 14 must consent to the adoption, whereas no consent is required in custody transfer cases. Also, a parent whose whereabouts are not known cannot be served by publication (running a notice in the newspaper) in an adoption, but those absent parents can be served that way for custody transfers.
The primary change in benefit for the child being adopted by grandparents as opposed to having custody transferred, is that the child is now eligible for military benefits if either of the grandparents are veterans. This includes the child being able to be named as a VA disability beneficiary, receiving money for school through the G.I. bill, and other benefits such as receipt of housing subsidies and commissary deductions.
Ensuring the welfare and safety of children and grandchildren is of the utmost importance. If you have legal questions about grandparent custody or adoption contact our Huntsville family law attorneys.
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