Yes, they can.
Grandparents often feel that they do not have rights when it comes to their grandchildren, and they are often stonewalled when it comes to visitation and custody arrangements. In many cases, however, the grandparents may be the family members best able to care for the child.
Anyone with an interest in the child's welfare can file a custody action in SC when abuse or neglect is suspected, including grandparents. In Jobst v. Martin, decided by the SC Court of Appeals last week, the Court affirmed that grandparents have standing to seek custody under SC law.
Why Did the Court Give Custody to the Grandparents?
The mother had repeated drug and alcohol-related arrests, including an arrest for DUI and possession of marijuana while her child was in the car with her.
The mother and father signed a safety plan with DSS agreeing that the child would remain in the father's custody and the mother would have only supervised visits. The father, however, worked full time and went to school fulltime, so they asked the grandparents to come from Texas to help them care for the child.
Instead, the grandparents showed up and filed a custody action the following week - the Court allowed the child to return to Texas with the grandparents, and ultimately awarded custody to the grandparents due, in part, to the mother's inability to stop abusing substances and her failure to pay child support.
The mother, on appeal, argued that the grandparents do not have standing to pursue custody of their grandchildren, but the Court of Appeals disagreed.
Who Can Ask for Custody in SC?
Any interested person may be able to file a custody action in SC, including grandparents or other third parties.
Section 20-7-420(20) of the South Carolina Code grants the family court jurisdiction to award custody of a child to the child's parent or "any other proper person or institution," including third parties.
Section 63-3-550 of the South Carolina Code (2010) says that "any person having knowledge or information of a nature which convinces such person that a child is neglected . . . may institute a proceeding respecting such child." There is no restriction on who may intervene when abuse or neglect is suspected - the plain language of the statute says, "any person," and that certainly includes grandparents.
As in the Jobst case, if a grandparent has reason to believe that their grandchildren are being abused or neglected, they can file an action asking the court for custody.
Can Grandparents Ask the Court for Visitation in SC?
Grandparents also have a legal right to enforce visitation under some circumstances.
Visitation can be awarded to grandparents in SC if a child's parents are deceased, divorced, or separated, and
- The child's parents or guardians are not allowing the grandparents to visit for a period of time longer than 90 days; and
- Granting visitation would not interfere with the parent-child relationship; and
- The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parents are unfit or that there are compelling reasons for the Court to believe that the parent's decision is not in the child's best interest.
The Court can also award attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party, whether that is the parent or the grandparent.
If you are a grandparent seeking custody of your grandchildren, and you suspect that your grandchildren are being abused or neglected, we can help you by gathering the evidence you need, filing a custody action on your behalf, and representing you in the family court.