Filing for Third-Party Custody

Grandparents, Other Family, or Friends Who Can File for Child Custody

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Third-party custody is often defined as custody of a child involving a nonparent. Each state considers a number of factors prior to awarding child custody to a third party. Usually, third-party custody occurs when the biological parents do not want custody of the child or children or the biological parents are incapable of caring for the child or children.

Review some guidelines and information for parents, grandparents, or any other person who is considering a custodial arrangement that involves a nonparent.

Third-Party Standing

Many states require a third party to have standing to petition for custody of a child. This means that the courts require a nonparent to have an established relationship with a child prior to petitioning for custody.

In many cases, states can find that a de facto custodian may have standing in a custody suit. A de facto custodian is a person with whom the child has resided for an extended period of time prior to the custody petition. Usually, this person has been standing in as the child's custodian due to a lack of participation from one or both of the child's parents.

Examples of Third-Party Custodians

The court will usually consider immediate family members, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, or older siblings, as suitable third-party custodians. In certain circumstances, a court will find a godparent, family friend, or neighbor to have standing.

When A Court Considers a Third-Party

A nonparent may petition a court for custody of a child under certain limited circumstances. For example, if the nonparent fears that the child will be in danger or may suffer harm in the care of a parent, the nonparent may decide to petition the court. This includes cases of child abuse or a parent's substance abuse.

If the parent has abandoned or neglected the child for an extended period of time, the court may decide that a third-party custodian is in the best interests of the child. The court may consider other extraordinary circumstances exist as deemed relevant by the court, such as a parent's inability to afford to provide the necessary care for the child or children.

Third Party Custody Factors

Prior to awarding custody to a third party, a court will consider a number factors. The primary consideration is always what is in the best interest of the child. If the child is older, the court will look at the wishes of the child. If the biological parent petitions for a third-party custodian, the court will weight that heavily. 

Other factors for consideration may include a child's relationship with the third party; a child's adjustment to school, home, and community;​ the length of time the child has lived in a stable, loving home; and the ability of the custodian to provide for the child, financially and emotionally.

Legal Advice

For more information about third-party custody, refer to your state's statute on child custody or speak with a qualified attorney in your home state.