On May 4, 2018, the Pennsylvania statute setting forth the basis upon which an individual who is not the parent of the child may seek physical or legal custody of a child was amended. Prior to the amendments to 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5324, only a parent of a child, a person in loco parentis to the child or a grandparent of a child, in certain circumstances, had a basis or right to seek some form of custody of a child. The ability of such persons to seek custody of a child is known as standing. The amendment to this statute has expanded the class of individuals who have standing to seek physical and/or legal custody a child.
The amended statute provides that an individual who establishes the following by clear and convincing evidence will have standing to seek physical and/or legal custody of a child:
- He or she has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for a particular child;
- He or she has a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the welfare of the child; and
- Neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.
The amendment to 23 Pa.C.S.A. §5324 was proposed in Senate Bill 844. The accompanying senate memorandum which introduced this bill stated the intended purpose of the bill was to address fallout from the opioid and heroin epidemic in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This epidemic has left many children, their care givers, and individuals genuinely interested in the welfare of the child in legal limbo. Although the amendment to this statute has removed some legal hurdles for these individuals, they will still need to demonstrate to a court that placing the child in their care will be in the child’s best interest.
Although the amendment to this statute does not take effect until 60 days after May 4, 2018, it will apply to all custody proceedings regardless of whether the proceeding was commenced before, on or after the effective date.