Having an extended family in your life can be one of the greatest advantages for a parent and child. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and even close family friends can assist when times get tough and enhance more bountiful times. If you have ever gone through a family law case, then you know that circumstances can arise where you may need assistance in caring for your children during a particular season of your life. The circumstances that brought about that season may be within your control or outside of your control, but if they present themselves, it is a great benefit for you to have people in your corner that can come to your aid.
In the field of family law, grandparents oftentimes fill the role of a temporary parent in families across Texas. If you consider that the needs of families change over time, then this makes complete sense. Blended families and extended families are becoming more of the norm rather than the exception in 2021. Add to those considerations regarding the tail end of this pandemic, and we have a great deal to be concerned with as far as what the changing nature of the family means to ourselves into our children. In divorce or child custody cases, it is not uncommon for a grandparent to attempt to intercede when they believe that the best interests of their grandchildren call for it.
As a family law attorney, I've had the privilege to work with multiple sets of grandparents in the past who have felt an acute need 2 insert themselves into a legal matter involving their grandchildren. Sometimes that need was directly related to an inability to spend time with their grandchildren in the past. Since grandparents do not have codified rights as far as Visitation with their grandchildren, a difficult pill for many grandparents to swallow is that they have less control than they might like as far as being able to spend time with their grandchildren if they are children do not wish for that type of visitation to occur.
Another set of circumstances that may be relevant in your life as a grandparent is if you are children are unable to care for your grandchildren to the point where you believe that you must step in and become a conservator to protect your grandchild's best interests. Your ability to do so independently is limited in Texas. It is presumed that parents act in the best interests of their child at all times, and limiting or restricting your ability to spend time with your grandchildren is an example of this presumption. Additionally, grandparents have no rights or duties in relation two their grandchildren on a formal or legal level.
Finally, in some circumstances, you're grandchildren may be left to stay with you or to be in your care for some time by agreement with your grandchild's parents. While this can be a great arrangement both for you and for your grandchild, it does not necessarily come free of stressors as well. Even though you and your grandchild may be happy living in the same household, there are still financial and other burdens to bear for you as a caregiver and provider. Even if your child can provide you with some degree of support financially, you may be unable to earn additional income sufficient to provide for another person.
I want to take some time today and discuss what options are available to grandparents like yourself who have taken on the added responsibility of caring for a grandchild on a full-time basis. While you may be able to perform some basic research into programs and benefits out there for grandparents such as yourself, the fact remains that taking on this awesome responsibility does not mean that you can take on a how-to manual as well. Just like children don't come with an instruction manual, grandchildren do not come with a how-to guide, either.
What is help out there for a grandparent who takes care of their grandchildren on a full-time basis?
The State of Texas offers assistance programs for grandparents like yourself who care for their grandchildren full-time. Through a state-funded program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), payments can be made from the state to you for essentials such as housing, clothing, food, utilities, and basic household bills associated with raising your grandchild. This is a needs-based program where the amount of money you may be awarded every month depends on how much income you have coming into your household.
If you were to apply for TANF benefits, then you would need to submit information to the state of Texas confirming your level of resources and assets that you can draw from to care for your grandchild. One-time payments are common under the TANF program, as well as the possibility of monthly payments for both yourself and your grandchild. It is important to note that you do not need to necessarily have conservatorship rights or even be a legal guardian of your grandchildren to take advantage of these benefits. You need only be a relative of the child and be their caretaker.
The one-time cash payments associated with the TANF program typically are in the $1,000 range. The $1,000 award is a one-time award no matter how many grandchildren you ultimately care for or how many additional children come into your home in the future. If you are not working or are employed part-time, you may qualify for ongoing, monthly payments both for yourself and your grandchild. Essentially, you would need to show that you are unable to meet your grandchild's basic needs.
Additional benefits for grandparents through the State of Texas
Low-income persons can take advantage of food benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Individual rules exist for this program where you may have benefits made available to you if your income and resources are below a certain level. The number of people living in your household, including your grandchildren, will determine the level of support made available to you.
Medicaid is a health care benefit program for primarily low-income children administered by the State of Texas. Additionally, people over age 65 can take advantage of the health resources made available through Medicaid. Medications, primary doctor appointments, hospital care, dental care, glasses, and mental health treatment are medical coverage provided under Medicaid programs. Similarly, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can offer similar benefits for families that do not qualify for Medicaid but do not have health insurance of any kind.
What are other resources available to you as a grandparent?
There are private and public organizations that provide additional types of assistance for grandparents such as yourself. Churches and other groups offer food pantries for families in need, for example. You can reach out, as well, to local rent-assistance programs and social services to help you meet your monthly obligations as far as shelter is concerned as with anything, you should reach out to your social circle for assistance and leads to information on resources that can help you and your family.
What can you do through the courts to help your grandchildren?
I think it is commendable for you as a grandparent to want to take on additional responsibility for raising your grandchildren. Being in the custody of your grandchildren on an informal basis is one thing, but being able to be awarded legal custody of your grandchildren is another matter altogether. This would require that you become involved in the family court of your jurisdiction here in Texas. Taking this step means that you will be changing not only the lifestyle you experience but also that of your grandchildren—Texas family law cases related to custody, visitation, access, and possession.
The most straightforward way for you to obtain legal custody of your grandchildren is for your grandchild's parents to consent to your efforts. This means having their written permission to file a lawsuit seeking conservatorships rights and then having a series of hearings where a judge determines that your being the primary caretaker of your grandchildren is in their best interest. You may be able to get this done simply by having a power of attorney document signed by your grandchild's parents. You could then go to court with this document and seek to have formal, conservative shipwrights drawn up in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.
However, filing in the original lawsuit in which you ask for custody of your grandchildren is not as simple as it may sound. Some requirements must be in place for you to do so, including having your grandchild live with you for at least six months consecutively before filing the lawsuit. If your grandchild has lived with you for six months but is now living with someone else, then the move from your home must have occurred no more than three months before the beginning of your lawsuit. Previously having been named as your grandchild's Guardian will also assist in this process.
The facts and circumstances of your grandchild's upbringing with their parents are also a crucial factor in winning custody rights. Specifically, you must be able to show and prove to the court that your grandchild is being hurt emotionally or physically because of their current living conditions. Typically, you must show evidence that their emotional and physical needs are not being met by whoever is caring for your grandchild currently, either a parent or other caregiver. Mere hearsay or conjecture is not sufficient in this regard. You must be able to produce something substantive to be in a good position to win custody rights.
Additionally, if you were interested in filing an independent lawsuit seeking conservative shipwrights over your grandchild, you could show that your grandchild's parents or custodian consent to your becoming a conservator on a primary basis. As we mentioned a moment ago, this is theoretically possible if your child and spouse or partner agree with your taking over primary caregiving responsibilities. However, if you are attempting to file an independent lawsuit against the will of your grandchild's parents, then this is not an option that you will be able to take advantage of.
How to intervene in a pre-existing family lawsuit regarding your grandchild
before you were able to file an independent lawsuit asking for custody of your grandchild, another person may have already filed the lawsuit in which they have asked to be named the primary conservator of your grandchild. Or, your child and their partner may already be involved in a previously filed suit affecting the parent-child relationship. In either case, you may be able to intervene in that lawsuit by showing that you have had a great deal of past contact with your grandchild and by showing that your grandchild is being harmed due to their current living conditions, both from a mental and physical perspective.
What other considerations must you bear in mind when considering custody options for your grandchild?
When it comes to deciding to raise your grandchildren as your children, you need to consider whether or not you are in a financial place. As we have gone over already in today's blog post, there are available means for you to take advantage of supplementing your income and supplementing the available resources to your family. However, it would not be a good idea to take on responsibilities and then rely completely on government or private benefactor assistance. This is the same advice I would give to a newly divorced spouse who is choosing to take on financial responsibilities under the impression that their former spouse will be paying child support or special maintenance to them in the future.
Additionally, you should consider the difference is between raising a child who loves your own in the past and raising your grandchild in today's environment. The world has changed. I am not going to tell you that the world has changed dramatically and that you would not be able to adapt to the changing conditions, but I would recommend that you speak to someone and consider how raising a child today differs from how you raised your children. Setting up appropriate boundaries and being able to discipline your grandchildren maybe it's much different setup circumstances than what you faced years ago when you raised your children.
Next, you should consider whether or not your children are on board with your attempting to go through the courts to assume legal rights to Visitation or conservatorships regarding your grandchildren. If your child is on board with the decision and is willing to consent to you, it may be a sign that you may not even have to go to court at all. For instance, if all you want is formalized visitation rights with your grandchildren, then you may be able to speak to your children and have an honest discussion about allowing you greater access to your grandkids. An honest discussion like this can go a long way; it may be able to help you avoid having to go to court at all.
However, if you are formally seeking to either gain conservatorships rights over your grandchildren or to adopt them outright, then the consent of your grandchild's parents is essential. Yes, you can accomplish your goals in either direction without their consent, but having parental consent in conservatorships or adoption proceedings makes life a great deal simpler for you.
Finally, it would be best if you considered whether or not the circumstances of your case and situation line up to allow you to accomplish your goals. Keep in mind that it is not always straightforward for a grandparent to file an independent lawsuit seeking conservatorships rights over a grandchild. We discussed that topic briefly earlier in today's blog post. Still, I would encourage you to contact an experienced family law attorney who can help grandparents like yourself in the past. They can provide basic guidance and an interpretation of the relevant family laws in Texas before you file a lawsuit. You may find that going through the courts is not the best option for your family and that another path would allow you to accomplish your goals more readily.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material presented in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about Texas family law and the circumstances that are currently impacting your family. Our attorneys and staff are client-focused and are honored to serve our community in the family law courts of Southeast Texas.