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Grandparents might contribute to child custody arrangements

Readers may regard extended families as a relic of the past, or perhaps even as an arrangement more common in other cultures. A recent article, however, suggests otherwise.

Technology has enabled family members, friends and relatives to keep in even better touch with each other using applications such as Skype or other virtual chatting applications. In spite of those modern conveniences, recent data indicates that more American children are living with their grandparents. Not all of those caregiver grandparents have legal custody of the children. Some may simply have an informal physical custody or babysitting arrangement. 

Specifically, about 7.8 million children live in households where a grandparent is present. Grandparents are the primary caregivers in only about one-third of those homes. Yet regardless of the technical custody arrangement, data indicates that nontraditional family structures have become more common in the past several decades.

One explanation may be the country’s high divorce rate. Divorced or single parents, in balancing the demands of parenting and career, may turn to their children’s grandparents for assistance. Grandparents are a growing demographic: According to current estimates, Americans age 65 or older will comprise 20 percent of the population by the year 2050.

As a child custody lawyer might agree, the availability of a grandparent to assist in the care of a child can greatly influence a divorce court. Decisions about a child’s medical, education and religious issues might remain the responsibility of a child’s biological parent or parents. However, the matters of physical custody, including where a child lives and attends school, can be assigned to a group of caregivers.

Ultimately, a divorce court will be most interested in finding an arrangement that is in a child’s best interest. A presumption of joint legal custody may be the starting point, but other factors might call for other arrangements.

Source: washingtonpost.com, “As families change, grandparents are stepping in to take care of grandchildren, study says,” Tara Bahrampour, Nov. 5, 2013

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