Custody After Death of A Parent


A friend lost her young daughter suddenly and tragically. Her grandson was five years old. For the next two years she was prominent fixture in his life and his father’s, even driving them around for six months while the father’s license was suspended, babysitting throughout the summer, weekends, during out-of-town trips by the father, and cleaning house for them weekly.

During this time, the child was able to express his grief, share his memories, and visit his mother’s grave site, an outing he met with joy rather than sadness. He has several male cousins around his age, as well as his mother’s brothers and sister, all of whom were mainstays in his life and sources of comfort while he adjusted to life without his mother–an adjustment that he is still making.

Enter the new wife. Overtures have been made since day one to include her, and her son (who is close to the grandson’s age), as well the grandson and his father, in events held by the deceased wife’s family unit. These have been met with mixed and unpredictable reactions. The grandmother has been forbidden any access to her grandson whatsoever, and by choice, misses birthday parties and other family gatherings so that her grandson might hopefully attend. Sometimes he is allowed. Often times the invitation is declined, as are invitations to visit and go on outings with his cousins, who are also his best friends.

Since the new wife entered the picture, she has not only severely limited contact with his deceased mother’s family, but systematically attempted to remove any memory of this child’s biological mother, insisting that he call her mom and telling everyone emphatically, “I am his mother.”

If this approach were working in the child’s best interest, the adults in this situation are mature enough to put that interest ahead of their own–their own interests obviously being to have a relationship with this child–a relationship which, of course, eases their own grief and sense of loss. But his best interests are not being served here. In fact, the opposite is true.

This once very sweet, agreeable, passive child is now seeing a therapist for anger management issues, doing poorly in school, and has been put on meds, something is deceased mother would NEVER have allowed! She is, no doubt, rolling in her grave.

There is an insider who has reported the following: The grandson recently confronted his father during therapy, angrily asking him, “Why can’t I see my Nanna?”; He also said, “That woman is nothing to me. She is not my mother”; Additionally, he has shared feelings that his mother “left” him. There is concern that this might be an idea planted by the new stepmom. And finally, the woman herself shared, “I’m ashamed to say I’m jealous of a dead woman.”

EVERYTHING I have read describing a healthy response to a grieving child is OPPPOSITE of what this woman is doing to this boy. Can his mother’s family seek custody based on emotional abuse with the intention of getting before a judge and being granted at least visitation? [/i]


Unfortunately Grandparents can only seek court ordered custody in very limited circumstances. They have standing to seek custody if they can prove that the parent is unfit (this is very, very difficult to prove). Typically this is granted in extreme circumstance where there is drug abuse, domestic violence, etc.

Grandparents can only seek visitation if there is an ongoing custody dispute.


I know what the law and precedents are in this situation. I’m asking if there is any wiggle room at all to set a new precedent. Given that the mother’s family will likely be unsuccessful in getting custody, can they sue for custody anyway based on emotional abuse and get before a judge? And if they get before a judge, would he then have the authority to grant visitation and/or other measures to correct the emotional abuse in lieu of granting custody to the mother’s family if he should wish to do so?


There really isn’t ‘wiggle room’ so to speak. A person has to have standing in order to sue a parent for child custody. We discuss this at length and include relevant court opinions about this subject in the following article: Grandparents and Custody.