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Grounds to Grant Custody to Relatives


Keeping a child with his/her parents is the default model and preferred arrangement from a legal and societal perspective. To support this standard, the law rarely allows non-parents to request or intervene in child custody cases. Thus, even family members who are routinely close to children, such as grandparents, are limited when it comes to asking for custody rights over a minor if one or both parents are available. However, like many legal standards, this one is not set in stone, and a court will make an exception to this rule if the best interests of the child require a change. But, unless parental rights are terminated, the custody of the non-parent is typically structured as temporary and subject to modification or termination at any time. In addition, though, a parent may consent to temporary custody by a relative, which can occur when a parent is struggling with employment, substance abuse, or criminal issues and cannot provide the home the child needs. A recent news story out of Tampa illustrates a situation in which a court could be convinced that care by the parents is not a good choice. A judge ordered a 3-year-old boy suffering from leukemia to live with his grandmother after his parents refused to take the boy for chemotherapy treatment.

Why a Custody Order Matters

Many relatives serve as caregivers to minor children with the consent and approval of their parents. Consequently, the question may be asked why a formal custody order would be needed if the child is settled with family. Legally, a child’s parents are the only ones authorized to make important decisions for the child, such as school enrollment and medical care. Relative caretakers without a court order cannot fully act on the child’s behalf, which can present significant problems. Temporary custody orders offer the authority the family member needs to look out for the child’s welfare.

Temporary Custody

If the parents consent to custody by the relative, the process is fairly straightforward to request, and will be granted if in the best interests of the child. If there is no consent, the relative petitioning for custody must present evidence the parent abused, neglected, or abandoned the child. Further, the relative must convince the judge he/she is the best placement for the child, which is easier to do if the child is already living with him/her. If granted, the court may still allow the parents visitation rights in the hopes they may be reunited at some point.

Intervening for Custody

In addition, relatives may also intervene in an active child custody case, or petition for custody if they can prove the best interests of the child are best served by not placing the child with the parent. The family member would have to prove exposing the child to the parent would be a detriment to his/her wellbeing or that the parent is not equipped to fulfill the responsibilities of childcare. If granted, these custody rights would only be temporary, and subject to modification if a significant change in circumstances occurs that renders the parent fit to take over parenting duties.

Get Legal Advice

Ideally, every parent would have an active and substantial role in their child’s life. Not all parents are able to provide this support, and relatives often step in to take up this responsibility. If you are a family member seeking custody of a child, talk to the Donna Hung Law Group about your options. These types of petitions are highly complex and are best filed with the help of an Orlando timesharing and parenting attorney. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.