Caring for a child that isn’t yours is one of the most amazing displays of love that exists in this world. That makes it a heartbreaking experience when that child is taken away from you. Disputes over child custody are among the most difficult to endure, but when you have the child’s well-being at stake, it’s a fight worth having.
If you believe that you need custody over a child that is not biologically yours, then you need to start learning about the process. In some cases, such as adopting a foster child, the process can be fairly direct. In other cases, it’s more complicated. The following are the most common ways for a non-biological caregiver to gain custody of a child.
Gaining guardianship of a child that is not yours is going to have a lower bar to clear, but it still isn’t a given. Guardianship is better called consent guardianship, and the name says it all. This happens when the child’s parents allow you to be the child’s guardian. They can provide written consent, making it legally binding. Just make sure your lawyer is involved. With consent guardianship, you can make legal decisions for the child. You can determine their health care and when and where they go to school. It is also assumed that the child will live with you.
The limitation on guardianship is that it is entirely dependent on parental consent. They can revoke your guardianship at will. Without the written consent of both parents, you cannot be granted guardianship status. If you cannot get parental consent, the only option is to move on to the next method.
This is a more common approach to gaining custody of a child that is not yours. With non-parent custody, you effectively become the legal “parent” of the child in the eyes of the court. Non-parent custody gives you full legal authority over the child, and the parents cannot revoke this custody on their own. Ultimately, a court can revoke non-parent custody, but that is not an easy process.
Non-parent custody petitions have a few requirements. In general, your case depends on proving that you can provide a better home for the child than the parents, but there are a few legal thresholds that have to be cleared. The first is your relationship with the child. In typical non-parent custody petitions, the child has already been living with the petitioner at the time of filing. One way or another, you have to prove a longstanding relationship with the child, and you have to prove that you have the means to provide for the child.
Your next bar to clear is proving that living with you is in the best interest of the child. More specifically, you have to prove that staying with their parent(s) is not in the child’s best interest. This means you have to legally prove that living with their parent(s) is causing harm to the child. It’s a high hurdle, but it can be done. Remember, the law will always side with the parents until there is clear evidence that the relationship with their biological parents is directly harmful to the child.
Your third bar is showing that the child is not in a stable two-parent home. This is actually the easiest to clear. You can show that one parent is deceased, that the parents are currently separated, or that they are not currently married. Any of these will be sufficient for this part of the legal equation.
If you can show all of this, the courts are likely to side with you and grant non-parent custody, but it is important to remember that these are legal requirements. It is not enough to believe that you should be the child’s primary caregiver. You have to prove it in court.
If you cannot get full custody, there is a final option. You can file for non-parent visitation rights. This does not authorize you to make legal decisions on behalf of the child, but it is a court-backed guarantee that you can spend time with the child. It is most commonly pursued by grandparents or other relatives who have provided care to the child at some point.
This is a difficult case to make. Typically, if being with their parents is ruled as the best interest of the child, the court will not guarantee that a non-parent can see them, but exceptions do exist.
To get non-parent visitation, you essentially have to prove that it harms the child for your visitation to be denied. It’s a tough case to make, and it’s a federal precedent set in place by the Supreme Court.
If you want to pursue any of these options or explore other legal ways to take care of a child that is not biologically yours, you will need legal help. Setzer Law Firm is here for you. Contact us, and we’ll discuss your options. We’ll help you ensure that the child in question gets put into the custody of the guardian who’s best equipped to meet their needs.