Custody cases can be emotionally intense. They can become even more complicated when there is a third-party custody petition. In Washington, third-party custody is referred to as guardianship of a minor. The expectations for this type of case are somewhat different than for a standard custody case involving both parents.
What is third-party custody?
Third-party custody involves a person other than a biological or adoptive parent seeking custody of a child. The petition can be made by the person seeking custody, which is often a relative such as a grandparent, sibling, uncle or aunt. It can also be made by a person suggesting that custody should be granted to someone besides the child’s parents. These petitions have a heavier burden of proof on the third-party seeking custody, as they must prove that parental custody in their case is not in the best interests of the child, including the parents being out of the child’s life or incapable, financially or emotionally of taking care of the child.
What to expect during the court hearing?
In third-party custody cases, the person seeking custody must show that the child should not be placed with the parent. For this reason, the judge will expect evidence and ask questions related to a variety of topics, including:
• What makes the parent incapable of taking care of the child?
• How will the child benefit from living with the third party instead of a biological parent?
• What is the relationship between the child and the third party?
• How will the child’s financial needs be met?
• What is the relationship between the third party and the biological parents like?
• How do the third party and the biological parents communicate?
Generally, courts view joint custody between parents as in the best interest of the child. However, if the court finds the evidence presented to fully show that the child will be cared for and protected living with the third party, the court will grant guardianship of the minor.