Sometimes a parent is no longer able or fit to take adequate care of his or her children. Perhaps the parent uses drugs or is serving a prison sentence. You may know of a child whose parent is in a situation like this and want to help. If so, you may be able to seek third-party custody.

Often, the individual seeking third-party custody of a child in need is a blood relative, such as a grandparent or an aunt or uncle. Many people confuse third-party custody with other family law matters. To clear up the confusion, here are some things you should understand about third-party custody before seeking it.

How is third-party custody different from legal guardianship?

Neither legal guardianship nor third-party custody ends parental rights permanently. Following the resolution of the issue that prevents a parent from caring for the child, the child can reunite with his or her parents.

However, third-party custody does prevent parents from asserting their custody rights in a way that might not be in a child’s interest. Legal guardianship, on the other hand, allows parents to reassert their custody rights at any time. Therefore, if the goal is to prevent the parents from putting the child in harm’s way, third-party custody may be the better option.

Is third-party custody the same as grandparents’ rights?

Asserting grandparents’ rights means continuing a relationship with your grandchildren through visitation. The court can defend your rights as a grandparent by allowing visitation over the objection of the child’s parents.

Seeking third-party custody involves much more than seeking visitation. Rather, it means asking for the responsibility for a child’s upbringing and total care for as long as necessary and committing to the fulfillment of that responsibility.