The Second Time Around — The opioid epidemic is making grandparents parents again
March 17, 2016
NORTH CONWAY — If you’ve been reading the news, you’ve no doubt heard of the devastating effects that the opioid or heroin epidemic has had on New Hampshire. Unfortunately, New Hampshire is the state with the highest teen substance abuse per capita, and deaths from opioids jumped 76 percent in 2014. The effect of this epidemic is not confined only to the drug users, but also has a profound effect on the families of the users, often long before an overdose or legal involvement.
Recently Cooper Cargill Chant’s family law practice has seen a steep increase in grandparents seeking advice on caring for their grandchildren after their adult child has died or become incapacitated by addiction. While the state has directed substantial resources into treatment and law enforcement, it has done little to assist families of the addicts. Grandparents, who may have already retired, are finding they are the only ones who can now raise their young grandchildren. Many of these children who have lived through their parent’s addictions, may come with medical and behavioral challenges of their own.
In New Hampshire, parents have sole authority over their children and can exclude even grandparents from contact. Without court intervention, grandparents may not be able to help neglected grandchildren. In other instances, parents may live with or rely on grandparents to care for their children, knowing they, themselves, are unable to do so.
Even when parents are cooperative, grandparents will still face legal challenges. Without court orders, grandparents have no legal right to make parenting decisions such as schooling or medical treatment. Even a routine trip to the dentist can be challenging, as grandparents have no legal ability to authorize treatment.
The most common legal option for grandparents is guardianship. As a guardian, the grandparent is given the legal authority to act as a parent for their grandchild (also known as the ward). If the parent is cooperative, then obtaining a guardianship can be relatively routine; however, if not, it can involve a complicated and expensive legal proceeding. Of course once appointed as guardian, the grandparent becomes legally obligated to provide for the welfare of the child, and will be required to make periodic reports to the court regarding the child’s welfare and assets if any. The guardian will be expected to insure the child is cared for, receives medical treatment and schooling.
In more extreme cases, the grandparent may seek a termination of parental rights and/or adoption. These proceedings are significantly more complicated than a guardianship.
If you’re a grandparent, you were a parent and you know that raising children is a young person’s game. Add this to having to deal with the impact of having an adult child with a serious addiction as well as a grandchild who has lost their parent to addiction, either physically or emotionally. Finally, becoming a guardian while living on a fixed income can add financial difficulties.
Any person who is or may be in this situation will have to rely on a network of medical and legal professionals to navigate this challenge. Cooper Cargill Chant’s Charles L. Greenhalgh and Leslie M. Leonard are attorneys who have been successful in assisting families through guardianship proceedings. They have successfully dealt with the various state agencies involved, and can help families facing this challenge.
Cooper Cargill Chant is the largest law firm north of the lakes region in New Hampshire. With its main office in North Conway, Cooper Cargill Chant lawyers have over 150 years of experience. Cooper Cargill Chant attorneys are recognized leaders of the N.H. Bar Association, have chaired the Boards of the N.H. Bar Association, the N.H. Association for Justice, and the N.H. Bar Foundation. Their lawyers have won numerous awards for their representation of clients throughout New Hampshire, including awards for legal service to the poor, for work in domestic violence cases, in helping form and develop businesses, and in personal injury work. With offices located in North Conway and Berlin, Cooper Cargill Chant is counsel to hundreds of small businesses and associations, and thousands of individual clients throughout northern New Hampshire and western Maine.
For more information, call (603) 356-5439