Legal Considerations for Women Who Raise Their Grandchildren

Grandmother with the granddaughters she's raising

Over the last several years, the number of women who raise their grandchildren has risen substantially. In 1970, just over 2.2 million children in the U.S. were being raised by their grandparents, at least part-time. By 1997, this number had jumped to 5.3 million children, or 7.7 percent of all youngsters in the U.S.

Legal Issues for Women who Raise their Grandchildren

Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren when their son or daughter is alive but absent from the home are living in a kind of legal limbo. For example, in a situation where the child's parent has a drug or alcohol problem, the grandparent may be caring for the children while the parent is in rehab. Once the parent finishes the program, he or she takes the children back. If a relapse occurs, the children are once again returned to the grandparent. This situation is very difficult for everyone involved.

Since the grandparent doesn't have legal custody, it may cause difficulties in other situations, including:

  • Registering children for school
  • Giving consent to medical treatment for the children
  • Getting financial support from the state

A number of legal options are available to women who raise their grandchildren. Here are some examples:

Legal Guardianship

A legal guardian is able to make decisions on a child's behalf, but the child's parent still has rights. The parent may go to court to have the guardianship arrangement terminated. In some states, there is an option to have a legal guardianship made permanent. Once legal guardianship over a child has been established, the guardian may be able to receive some financial assistance from the state to help with the cost of raising the child.


Having legal custody of a grandchild is a similar arrangement to being named the legal guardian. Being named the legal guardian may give the grandparent more rights, however.

Foster Parenting

It is possible for a grandparent to raise a grandchild under the designation of a foster parent. The disadvantage of this course of action is that the state has legal custody of the child. This means that the state has the right to move the child to another foster home at any time. A grandparent who is acting as a foster parent would likely be able to receive financial assistance from the state as long as the child is in his or her home, however.

Adopting a Grandchild

Another option for women raising their grandchildren is to formally adopt them. This means that the grandparent is now legally the grandchild's parent. The birth parents no longer have any legal rights, including the right to remove the child from the grandparent's home.

This option is a serious one and should not be entered into lightly. If the grandparent was receiving financial support from the state, these benefits may be terminated when the adoption is formalized. However, if the child has been designated as having special needs, other benefits, such as a federal adoption subsidy, may be available.

Open Adoption

If the grandparent lives in a state which allows open adoption, the grandparent/adoptive parent has the option of allowing the birth parent to see and stay in touch with the child. The grandparent/adoptive parent still makes all decisions relating to the child's care. Legal issues facing women who raise their grandchildren can be complicated. For this reason, an attorney who specializes in family law should be consulted in order to determine the best course of action for each situation.

Additional Resources

Fortunately, there are some places to turn to for guidance in these difficult family matters.

The AARP website lists a number of resources for "grandfamilies," including tax tips, how to deal with health insurance issues, and finding local support.

Daily Strength is a website with support blogs, updated news, and additional resources for grandparents caring for grandchildren.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Legal Considerations for Women Who Raise Their Grandchildren