Over the past decade, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren on a full-time basis has increased dramatically. However, taking responsibility for a grandchild's care does not necessarily mean that grandparents are recognized as legal guardians. In some cases, after caring for a grandchild, a parent may bar contact; however, under Missouri law grandparent visitation rights are usually available.
The 2010 Census found that six million children in the United States live in homes where a grandparent is the head of household. This was twice the number reported in 2000. These six million children represent approximately eight percent of all children in the United States. Of the six million cared for by grandparents, one million of these children reside in homes where their parents are absent.
Missouri statistics for 2010 were slightly lower than the national average with 101,304 kids, or 7.1 percent of children in the state, living in a home where a grandparent is the head of household. Statewide, parents were absent in nearly half of these households. Most Missouri grandparents caring for their grandkids are nearing retirement age.
Common Reasons Children Are in the Care of Grandparents
Grandparents take on the care of their grandchildren for several reasons. Job loss is one reason that lands a parent back home with their parents. Many times grandparents may assist with childcare while the parent seeks new employment or starts a new position.
In other cases, a grandparent may care for a grandchild when they see a parent incapable of properly caring for a child. Mental illness, addiction, alcoholism and incarceration cause parents to be absent in their children's lives and can leave the responsibility of raising the children in the hands of grandparents.
Missouri Grandparents May Be Able to Seek Custody and Visitation
In unfortunate circumstances, mental health issues or addiction may lead parents to abandon or mistreat their children. In these circumstances, grandparents may ask for custody through the family courts. The state of Missouri may grant a third party, including a grandparent, custody when both parents are unfit or unable to care for the children.
When taking custody of grandchildren is not an option, however, Missouri grandparents are generally able to seek visitation rights. Grandparents may seek visitation rights if the parents of the child divorce, if one parent is deceased and the other refuses to allow what the state calls "reasonable visitation" to the grandparents or if the child lived with the grandparents for at least six months over the past two years. In all cases, a grandparent must have been denied reasonable visitation for at least 90 days before filing for visitation rights.
Due to the stagnant economy and the personal choices of parents, grandparents will continue to be responsible for the care and well-being of their grandchildren. When questions arise regarding grandchild custody or visitation, please contact an experienced St. Louis family law attorney who can provide advice after reviewing the unique facts of your situation.