A Third Party is someone who is not a child’s natural (biological) or adoptive parent. In most child custody disputes, the court must choose between either the mother or the father. However, in some circumstances, someone who is not the mother or father may have reason to have custody or parenting time. A third party custodian can be a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, family friend, or anyone else that is not the parent, but who has had significant care responsibilities of a child.
There are millions of children across the United States living, either permanently or temporarily, in homes with grandparents, other family members, or other adults who are not the child’s parents. When this happens, the person(s) providing for the daily care and often the primary financial support are in fact custodians, but have no legal rights to the child without going to the court to establish those rights. This means a parent could remove the child at any time from the child’s established custodial environment with the third party with little or no warning. It could also complicate matters should the third party need to seek medical attention for the child, or enroll the child in school. In other circumstances a third party may be concerned that the parent is not providing adequately for the child full time, and may wish to seek custody of the child. There are a variety of scenarios, facts, and factors which may give rise to a third party custodian being appropriate for the child.
While many families work together when it becomes necessary for a third party to assume some or all of the care-taking responsibilities for a child, it can often be necessary to seek a court order which formalizes the agreement or situation to protect the child’s best interests to remain in the home and with the person(s) the child has become bonded to in a parent-like relationship. A court may Order a third party to have visitation or custody of a child if it is in the child’s best interests, but there are few circumstances in which that third party can initiate a contested custody proceeding. Sometimes, the first step to third party custody is obtaining guardianship of a child through a court proceeding.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are raising a child that is not your natural child, or your child is being raised by a third party custodian, and you have questions or concerns about that situation, at Schmeltzer & Bostic, we can assist you with understanding your legal rights and remedies in third party child custody matters.