Under certain circumstances, Arkansas grandparents can seek legal custody of their grandchildren. In a recent decision, the state Court of Appeals clarified when grandparents are allowed to seek custody.

The court’s decision will likely have a limiting effect on grandparents’ ability to obtain child custody.

The dispute stemmed from a grandfather’s attempt to obtain custody of his granddaughter after the child’s mother died.

The child’s mother and father were married when the child was born, but divorced in 2005. After the divorce, the mother was awarded custody. The father moved to Missouri but continued to visit the child after leaving Arkansas.

Following the divorce, the mother moved into the grandfather’s home. Since the mother was an alcoholic and had medical problems, the grandfather provided most of the child’s day-to-day care.

Sadly, the mother died in 2011. After her death, the child’s father received an order, stemming from the original divorce case, that granted him custody of the child. Then, the grandfather started a new case in which he petitioned for custody of the child. The father moved to have the grandfather’s case dismissed, arguing that the grandfather didn’t have a right to petition for custody.

The court agreed. It found that Arkansas’s Domestic Relations statutes don’t provide for a scenario in which a non-parent can petition for custody of a child. Grandparents can intervene in a custody fight between two parents, but they cannot initiate a custody action on their own.

Instead, the proper route is for grandparents to seek guardianship of their grandchildren.

Source: Leagle, Pfeifer v. Deal, Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I, Feb. 29, 2012.