What Is Third Party Custody?
We are commonly asked: “What is third party custody? Is third party custody the same thing as non-parental custody?”
Third party custody, also known as “non-parental custody” in Washington state, is when someone has custody of the child who is not the child’s parent, either biologically or through adoption.
Why Would Someone Want Non-Parental Custody?
There are a variety of reasons why someone other than a biological parent might petition the court for custody of a minor child. The biological parents might be deceased, in prison, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or homeless – or may have abandoned the child. In such instances where neither biological parent is available to exercise custody of the minor child, a friend or other family member might step forward to petition the court for custody of the child, so as to avoid having the child going into foster care.
The case law describes the standard for seeking non-parental custody of a minor child as follows:
We also note that the third-party custody statutes place “a high threshold burden on a petitioner seeking non-parental custody.” To meet this heightened standard, a party seeking to interfere with a parent’s liberty interest in the custody of her children must show that the parent is either unfit or custody with the parent would result in actual detriment to the child’s growth and development. For the purposes of non-parental custody, our Supreme Court as stated, “A parent is unfit if he or she cannot meet a child’s basic needs.”
If a party successfully obtains a Non-Parental Custody Decree from the court, that does not necessarily decide the issue for the entire remainder of the child’s status as a minor. Rather, the law still would prefer a biological parent to have custody of the child. For example, if a minor child’s biological mother is deceased and the biological father has abandoned the child, a set of the child’s grandparents might successfully obtain a Non-Parental Custody Decree from the court.
However, later (even quite a lot later), if the biological father shows up again and wants to now undertake his responsibilities as the child’s parent, the court will explore ways to restore the biological father’s custody rights, so long as the father can persuasively demonstrate that he no longer is unfit and his having custody of the child no longer would result in an actual detriment to the child’s growth and development. Persons seeking to obtain non-parental custody of a child should be mindful that, even if they are successful, their success might only be temporary. As experienced Family Law Attorneys, we can help you with this issue.