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Custody Concerns when Raising Grandchildren with Disabilities

June 26, 2013

Raising grandchildren with disabilities is a challenge. This type of caregiving relationship requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and continued learning. In addition, a number of grandparents in this situation find themselves in the throes of custody battles with their own children.

Nothing can be more heartbreaking than losing a child, in one way or another. The thought of losing one’s child and grandchild is even more unbearable. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, custody battles between parents and grandparents are a reality when caregiving responsibilities are not clearly defined.


With great investment of time and energy, a grandparent raising a disabled child sacrifices a lot to serve as the family caregiver. After being certain that all decisions are made in the best interests of the child, it may be important for a grandparent to safeguard his or her rights as the legal caregiver. For this reason, gaining full custody of the child and maintaining healthy relationships with the child’s parent or parents is essential.

Why is it Important for Grandparents to Gain Custody?

For full protection from such legal processes, it is recommended that grandparents who act as parents to grandchildren with disabilities arrange for full custody as soon as possible. This will not only put law on the grandparents’ side, it also makes it possible and easier to obtain outside help. Otherwise, it can be an additional burden for a grandparent who is not the legal guardian to attain assistance.

The Importance of a Family Unit: Keeping Healthy Relationships with Grandchildren’s Parents

Even in the position of family caregiver, it is important for a grandparent to keep healthy relationships with the child’s parent or parents. Being diligent in this benefits the child greatly, and proves that the interests of the child are important to all parties involved.

However, the nature of relationship conflicts make this challenging, here are some tips that may help to protect the family unit:

–  Before embarking on unifying the three party relationship (between grandparent, child, and grandchild), work to resolve any preexisting tensions.

–  Choose words wisely when communicating with the grandchild about his or her parents. In other words, avoid bad-mouthing the grandchild’s parent(s) in front of him or her.

– Seek counseling to help establish a strong foundation for the family unit.

The truth is, in Canada, grandparents are treated as third-parties or standing caregivers. This is why it can be hard for a grandparent to maintain custody of a disabled grandchild should the case be brought before a judge. Therefore, it is important to keep the child’s best interests in mind and work to stay in his or her life regardless of relationship conflicts.

In many cases, grandparents do not ask to receive the title of family caregivers. However, when the opportunity is presented, these individuals often accept responsibility.

As a grandparent, it is easy to feel ill equipped to care for a disabled child. In addition, the stresses that exist within the familial relationships can be taxing. Should legal intervention be necessary, the rights of grandparents may be limited. This is why it is important, above all else, to keep the child’s best interests at heart. Only make legal moves when it is right for the child and maintain healthy relationships with all parenting parties.

In the position of family caretaker, legal guardian, or loving grandparent it is possible to make a huge impact on a child’s life just by being present and supportive.


Image made available by on SalFalko Flickr through Creative Common Licenses.

*Please note: All research for this article is compiled from direct and third party sources. Mention of programs, organizations and companies does not imply support of The National Benefit Authority.  Pictures are for creative purposes only; they are not intended to sell or promote products for the NBA and belong to the accredited individual, organization or company.

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