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GrandFamilies Guide

Raising Grandkids: Legal Issues

Learn about your rights as a grandparent caring for a grandchild

What are guardianship subsidies and adoption subsidies?

  • Guardianship subsidies are cash payments to help relatives raise children after they get legal guardianship. In most states, the child has to have been in the custody of the state (foster care). Only a few states also have guardianship subsidies for children who go straight from their parent's home to another relative's guardianship.
  • Adoption subsidies are one-time or ongoing cash payments that may be available when a child with special needs who has been under the care of child welfare system is adopted. Each state has its own rules about what "special needs" means, which may include: physical, mental or learning disabilities, chronic illnesses, siblings groups, older children, racial/ethnic minorities or other situations.

What does it mean when a parent's rights are "terminated"?

A judge can decide that a parent has no right to care for or even visit with their child. Their parental rights are "terminated" or ended and they cannot get them back. Other family members may also be affected. For example, another family member may be denied the opportunity to visit with the child. Parent's rights are usually terminated permanently when a child is adopted.

What can I do if I think my grandchildren are in danger or being abused?

If you are concerned about abuse and neglect, call your state's Child Abuse Reporting  Number, which can be found at and ask them to look at your grandchildren's care. There is also the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD you can call for help. If you feel your grandchild is in immediate danger of being harmed, you should call the police.

How can I get help with legal fees?

If you have trouble paying for legal advice, you may be able to find reduced or free legal help through local agencies or private law firms. See the legal section in Grand Families Resources for ideas for organizations that can help you find pro bono legal help, such as the American Bar Association.

How can I plan for a time when I can't care for my grandchildren?

Be sure to include your grandchildren in your will. If you are your grandchild's primary caregiver, some states will allow you to direct someone to take care of him if you become ill or die. Talk with a lawyer to get more information about laws in your state.

My grandchildren had been living with me, but now they're back with their parents, who won't let me see them. What can I do?

Sadly, there can be situations when a parent decides not to let a grandparent see a child anymore. If this happens to you, contact a professional mediator who is trained to help people work out such disagreements. Mediation often costs less that going to court, and can be easier on everyone. If that doesn't work, you'll need to get a Family Law lawyer who can tell you about the visitation laws in your state.

The system seems to make it harder for me to raise grandchildren — not easier. How can I help change things?

When you are raising grandchildren, you have to be an advocate for them as they grow up. Many grandparents also become advocates to change "the system" or the laws, policies and rules that effect "grand families."  You can educate your local officials and members of Congress about your challenges by writing letters, calling and visiting your representatives. To find out how you can join forces with other grandparent caregivers, contact local or state grandparent groups or coalitions, your local Area Agency on Aging, Generations United, Grandfamilies of America, the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights, the Children's Defense Fund or other national organizations that advocate for your rights.

Next: Grand Families Guide: Finances

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National and state fact sheets listing services, programs,  benefits, laws and policies for grandparents raising children. Read

GrandFamilies Guide

Information, tips and tools for grandparents raising grandchildren. Read


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