DC and Maryland Third Party Custody Lawyers

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third party custody

Divorcing couples have a lot on their plates when hashing out the details of child custody and visitation as part of their divorce agreement. However, they sometimes do not address the strong bonds their children have with their soon-to-be ex-in-laws. This can lead to further visitation disputes between biological parents, grandparents, and other family members and friends who have bonded with children of the marriage. State law will consider granting visitation and, in extreme cases, custody of minor children to third parties despite parental objections. To achieve this goal, you need a skilled child custody attorney litigating your petition to satisfy two parameters set out by the court in such matters. Deciding to pursue visitation or custody against a minor child’s parents’ wishes is a serious undertaking that requires sufficient evidence demonstrating your action is in their best interest.

What are Third Parties and De Facto Parents under the Law?

A third-party is defined as an individual who is not the legal parent of a minor with whom they have a vested interest. This could be grandparents, godparents, family friends, and other relatives who share a bond with the child. Under state law, it is possible that under certain circumstances, a third-party could be treated as a “de facto parent,” which is an individual the family court treats as a parent.
For a court to recognize you as a de facto parent, you must prove the following circumstances:
  • You have lived in the same household as the child, and
  • You and the child have formed a bond similar to a parent-child relationship,
  • The child’s legal parents have consented and encouraged the relationship you have with the child.
To what degree you satisfy these requirements is up to the court to determine. Still, if you are recognized as a de facto parent, you stand a better chance of successfully petitioning the court for custody of the minor child in question compared to a third-party. 

Do De Facto Parents and Third-Parties Have Custody Rights?

To pursue custody rights as a third-party, you must demonstrate to the court that the child’s legal parents are either unfit or that extraordinary circumstances are necessitating your petition. A court must be shown that the minor’s best interest is at stake to award custody in situations where this high standard of cause is successfully evidenced.

Individuals who have obtained recognition as de facto parents will not have to prove the legal parents’ unfitness or demonstrate that exceptional circumstances are at play. They have the difficult task of proving to a family court judge that giving them custody is best for the child involved in the case.

Typically, situations that would fall under extraordinary circumstances involve the bond between the third party and the minor, such as the length of time a grandparent has acted as a caretaker until the parents attempted to reintroduce themselves as the primary caregiver. Another factor the court will consider is the level of emotional trauma the child may suffer from separating from the third-party individual and how sincere the legal parents demonstrate when it comes to retaining custody.

Visitation Rights for Third Parties and De Facto Parents

Whether you are a de facto parent, a third party (grandparent, family friend, etc.), or a minor child’s legal parent, you may be able to pursue visitation rights if you do not have custody. Typically, this is only permitted when the court finds that the custodian is unfit or unable to visit the child would negatively impact them significantly.

Courts want to balance their decisions based on the child’s best interests and the constitutional rights of all parties involved regarding how they are brought up in their household. This can make the pursuit of visitation rights against a parent’s objections exceedingly complicated and emotionally exhausting for all involved. Before you seek visitation through the court, it is crucial to work with an attorney who has the family law experience necessary to position your case with the court in the best possible light.

Trust Skilled Child Custody Attorneys to Represent Your Third Party Rights

Because state law presumes that a child’s legal parents have the best interests of their children at heart in decisions they make regarding custody and visitation, it can be almost impossible for third parties to beat this presumption in court. If you are a grandparent or close family friend who wants to pursue custody or visitation of a minor child you take care of or have a close relationship with, contact The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl right away. The required standards for proving parents unfit and that your involvement in a minor child’s life is in the best interest of all involved are difficult to meet. Our family law attorneys can advise you on your case’s potential outcomes and what challenges could present an issue. Call us today at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280, or schedule a consultation on our website to get your questions regarding third-party custody answered.

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