What happens during a divorce when a third party, such as a grandparent, seeks custody of a minor child? In some cases, the court can and will give custody to someone other than one of the parents. If you're facing this situation, this is what you should know about third-party custody.
Temporary custody orders can become permanent.
Sometimes grandparents or other relatives step in during a difficult time in a parent's life and offer their support. That may include offering to take custody of a minor child during a divorce if a parent is trying to get through school, establish a new career, is moving, or there are significant problems with the other parent, such as drug addiction or physical abuse.
However, once a child is established in a home and thriving, the judge may be less inclined to make changes in custody. Continuity and stability are important to children and if a child is doing well where he or she is living, the judge may not want to change things. That means that if you surrender custody of your child to a third party, like his or her grandparents, even for a short period of time -- such as during the upheave of your divorce -- the judge may not want to return custody to you if the grandparents later object and decide to fight you.
Because of this sort of possibility, do not ever surrender custody of your children to a third party on a temporary basis without first seeking legal advice. You could end up facing an uphill battle to get custody back.
Non-parents can actively seek custody.
In other situations, the third party may not be seeking custody on a friendly basis in the first place. For example, you may have a situation where your spouse is clearly unfit to parent your child because of medical or mental issues and your child's grandparents don't believe that you are a "fit" parent either, for whatever reason.
In those situations, the third party may try to show the court that you are unfit and ask for custody of your child. Keep in mind, however, if someone threatens you with the idea that they will try to deprive you of the custody of your child that third parties, even if they are related, don't start out on an even footing with biological parents. The Parental-Superior-Rights Doctrine states that a child's natural parents are automatically presumed to have more rights than any third party who seeks custody. Your social and economic status don't matter. The burden is on the third party to prove that you are either unfit or neglectful as a parent.
If you are concerned about a third party's intentions regarding the custody of your child, talk to legal office, such as the Bray & Johnson Law Firm, as soon as possible.