The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Third-party custody

What is third party custody of a child?

Third-party custody is when a person other than the child's natural or adopted parents are given custody of a child.  Since the 1990's there has been a large increase in the rights of third-parties seeking custody and/or visitation with children of divorced or separated parents.

Courts typically follow the best interest of the child doctrine when determining how to arrange a child's legal custody, physical custody, or guardianship.  Non-parent custody typically arises when the court believes that neither parent is "fit" to raise the child, or when the child has been living with the third party for an extended period of time.

Why would a non-parent be given custody of a child?

If both biological parents are unfit, or unavailable, third party custody might be the best option for the best interest of the children.  Unfit parents might have a history of abuse, neglect, or simply be unable to provide an acceptable environment to raise the children.

Who is typically considered as a third party custody candidate?

Often, extended family such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or adult siblings are asked to take custody of their relative's children if the natural parent is not able to have custody.  Depending on the situation, friends or godparents might also be considered.

When making a decision about whether to award a person third party custody of the children, the court will consider factors such as:

  • What is in the best interest of the children?
  • What are the children's wishes?
  • What are the parents' wishes?
  • What relationship exists with the children and the potential new custodial parents?
  • What impact will be had by the children with regard to home life and school life?

Can grandparents be granted visitation rights with their grandchildren?
Historically, grandparents were prevented visitation with a grandchild if a parent objected. However, since 1965, universal legislation across all 50 states has passed permitting grandparents the right to petition family courts for visitation rights with their grandchildren. Although the laws do not automatically provide visitation rights for grandparents the allow grandparents the opportunity to request visitation even if a parent objects. Some states have broadened the right to petition the courts for visitation rights beyond grandparents to great-grandparents, bonus parents or step parents, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family that have a close relationship with the children.

A grandparent petitioning for visitation often occurs when a parent passes. Some states allow grandparents to petition for visitation rights when a parent has been incarcerated, a child has been born out of wedlock, and if the child has had a stable history living with said grandparent.


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