The pros and cons of awarding custody to grandparents

Here in Massachusetts, our laws afford families a number of options when it comes to custody arrangements. While the preferred arrangement is joint or shared custody between the child’s parents, different arrangements may be necessary, such as awarding full custody to one parent or to another family member altogether. This oftentimes happens in situations where one or both parents are not considered fit to take care of the child, which forces the courts to award custody based on the best interest of the child.

Across the nation, including here in our state, awarding custody to another family member, such as a relative or a grandparent, is not unheard of. In fact, the Pew Research Center notes that 1 in 10 children live with their grandparents. In some of those cases, one or both grandparents have custody of the child and are the parent figures.

Although awarding custody to a grandparent may be in the best interest of the child, such as in situations of negligence or abuse, this action has both pros and cons. The major pro with awarding custody to a grandparent is that the courts can ensure that the child is away from a potentially dangerous situation. This custody arrangement also strengthens the relationship the child has with members of their family, which may benefit the child more down the road.

There is one major con though that few people consider: possible financial insecurity. Depending on the grandparent’s age, they could be trying to save up for retirement or have limited financial means because they are relying on their retirement benefits to get by. As many of our readers can imagine, caring for a child may put a strain on finances that can quickly become depleted if a grandparent requires medical attention down the road.

As you probably know, much of the baby boomer generation will near retirement age in the next few years, increasing the demand for retirement funds and medical care. But with the expected increase in the number of “grandfamilies” across the nation in the years to come, there could be an increased demand for new housing complexes with this type of family in mind or even a surplus of senior citizens looking for employment after their retirement age as well.

Source:  NPR, “When Grandma’s House Is Home: The Rise Of Grandfamilies,” Steven Inskeep and Jennifer Ludden, Dec. 15, 2014