I’m Not the Child’s Parent – Can I Obtain Third-Party Custody?
Sometimes it is in the best interest of a child for a non-parent to have custody. This is particularly true when the child’s parents have mental health or substance abuse issues, are incarcerated or deceased. In Pennsylvania, third-party custody is a legal arrangement where a non-parent seeks custody of a child. A third-party seeking custody may be a relative, family friend, neighbor, or another person who is caring for the child. It can be a complicated legal process to obtain third-party custody, but ultimately one that can be successful.
First, the individual seeking custody needs to have standing to file a petition for custody. Parents naturally have standing to file for custody based on their title and position in the child’s life, but some third-parties also have standing. For example, a person who stands in loco parentis, meaning one who is acting in the role of the parent, has standing to file for custody. In addition, a grandparent who is not in loco parentis may also have standing to file for custody if: (1) their relationship with the child began either with consent of a parent or under court order; (2) they assume or are willing to assume responsibility for the child; and (3) if the child has been determined to be a dependent, the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, or incapacity, or the child has resided with the grandparent for a period of at least 12 consecutive months and is removed from the home by the parents. Finally, an individual may have standing to file for custody if they can establish by clear and convincing evidence that they assumed or are willing to assume responsibility for the child, they have a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the welfare of the child, and that neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.
Assuming the third-party seeking custody has standing under one of the scenarios summarized above, a complaint for any form of custody, including primary physical custody, may be filed with the court. However, in order to be granted any form of custody, in making its determination as to what is in the child’s best interest the court will consider a number of factors including the nature, quality, extent and length of the involvement by the individual in the child’s life.
A grandparent or great-grandparent may still have standing to file for partial and/or supervised physical custody in limited circumstances even if they do not meet the requirements stated above. In granting partial physical custody or supervised physical custody to a grandparent or great-grandparent, the court considers the amount of personal contact between the child and the grandparent and whether the award of partial physical custody or supervised physical custody might interfere with the parent-child relationship. As always, the court will consider what is in the best interest of the child.
In any action involving custody of a child between a parent and a non-parent, there is a presumption that custody be awarded to the parent. However, the presumption in favor of the parent can be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. When cases involve custody of a child between a non-parent and another non-parent, however, there is no presumption that custody should be awarded to a particular party.
Contact Vetrano | Vetrano & Feinman for Third-Party Custody Matters
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