Child Custody issues don’t always arise during the course of a divorce or legal situation. There are a variety of circumstances where legal and physical custody of a child may be an issue with a family court. This includes cases involving unmarried parents, non-parents, and grandparents.
Here is a brief survey of child custody in non-divorce cases:
If you are the father of a child and you are not married to the mother, even if you are listed on the birth certificate as the father, you don’t have any rights to visit or do anything else with that child. The mother may choose to allow you to spend time with the child, but she can revoke these visits at any time. To lawfully have rights to visit your child if you and the other parent are not married to each other, you must file a petition with the court to establish a parenting plan and a to set court-ordered, scheduled, visitation.
It is possible for a non-parent––a grandparent, relative, or even a close friend of the family––to obtain custody of a child over their natural parents. This is called third-party custody or non-parental custody.
Given that a child’s biological parents have a constitutional right to custody of their own children, in order for a non-parent to be granted custody, two factors must be in play:
- Neither of the child’s natural parents is fit to raise the child.
- Keeping or placing the child in the custody of his or her natural parents will result in detriment to the child’s growth and development.
Circumstances that usually result in a non-parent being granted custody of a child include situations involving:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Child abuse
- Parents with serious mental health issues
- Incarceration of the parents
- Child abandonment
Grandparents’ rights to visitation
While parents still have the primary rights to decide how their children will be raised, grandparents also have some rights. Unfortunately, however, when the relationship between a child’s parents dissolves, his or her grandparents often find themselves at the mercy of the parents with regards to seeing the grandchildren.
Fortunately, grandparents are increasingly being granted visitation rights with their grandchildren. Grandparents’ visitation rights differ from state to state and may require a court hearing. Similar to child custody and visitation rights for parents, grandparents’ visitation rights must often be decided by a judge and in accordance with what is in the best interests of the children.
In some states, while a grandparent’s right to maintain a relationship with a grandchild is recognized, a grandparent can only petition for visitation rights when the child’s parents are legally divorced or separated, or in the process of being divorced or separated, or when some other significant breakdown of the nuclear family unit has taken place.
Contact an experienced family law attorney
Your children mean the world to you and custody laws can get complex. But you don’t have to navigate the family law system alone. An experienced child custody lawyer is ready to help. To learn child custody is decided in non-divorce cases in the state where you live, contact a qualified family law attorney today.