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Changing families, grand-parents and child custody

The face of American families has changed dramatically over the second half of the last century. Today when Americans think about family, images of the 1950's era atomic family probably do not rush to mind. Instead, many American families are blended, and now more than ever grandparents are taking on the role of parenting their grandchildren. As a consequence, some states are considering child custody rights for grandparents.

One state that wants to review child custody for grandparents is Kansas. A proposed law in that state would automatically make grandparents parties to child custody cases when grandchildren are removed from their guardian's homes. Under the current state law, grandparents receive notice of child custody hearings but are only heard in child custody cases at their own request. As said by one state senator that supports the proposal, the overall point of the proposed law in Kansas is to keep children out of foster care and to keep families together.

One study that was used to support the proposed law shows that in 2006 around 17,000 grandparents were the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. Among the stories grandparents shared in legislative testimonies were situations where children were removed from the care of parents by force and given to state authorities. Others told of stories where children were returned to parents who had substance abuse issues or who abused their children. Many grandparents became emotional when describing the child custody stories of their grandchildren.

Interestingly, the state legislature in Kansas is referred to as the "Silver Haired Legislature" because of the support elected representatives received from elderly citizens. The legislature is expected to pursue issues important to senior citizens and the child custody issue is a priority.

Source: The Associated Press, "Grandparents lobby for Kansas child-custody bill," 2/8/11

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