Non-parental custody, sometimes also referred to as third-party custody, refers to granting custody of a minor child to someone other than the parents of the child. It is usually given only in extreme cases when the child’s biological parents have either passed away, have been deemed unfit to parent, or have fostered a parental relationship with a third party.
At the heart of any child custody issue are the child’s best interests. The court will almost always honor the right of a parent to raise their own child without interference, except if a third party has such a close relationship with the child that it is similar to one of a natural parent. However, there are cases that result in the need for third-party guardianship or custody, including when parents are unable to care for a child during military service, job relocation, or during a period of homelessness or drug addiction.
Other scenarios may warrant giving custody to someone other than the child’s biological parents. In rare cases, parents voluntarily relinquish their right to raise the child, or a parent with custody passes away and the other parent either does not want custody or is unfit to parent. If both parents are considered abusive or negligent, then custody may be given to a third-party. In cases where the child has been living with and was cared for by a non-parent for a long period of time, the court may decide it is in the child’s best interest for custody to be given to the third-party caregiver.
Who May Be Awarded Non-Parental Custody?
A high legal standard must be met for a third-party to obtain custody of a child. Merely being related to the child is not enough to give that person legal preference. A coherent long-term relationship and interest in the matter must be proven. Examples of non-parents who may obtain custody include:
Aunts and uncles
Foster parents and adoptive parents
Partners of deceased parents
The court will closely look at the applicant’s relationship with the child, the ability to provide and care for the child, and the needs of the child to decide who should receive custody. Other factors include the length of time the child has been out of the parents’ care and the emotional impact of removing the child from its current caregiver.
It is important to realize that granting custody to a non-parent is something subject to future modification and does not terminate the parents’ custodial rights. Should the circumstances that warranted third-party custody change, the parent can seek to regain custody of the child. Even during third-party custody, the parent may be granted the right to visit and communicate with the child. Every case of custody is unique, and the advice of an experienced family lawyer can help clarify the chances of success for non-parents involved in child custody cases.