When Will a Court Grant Child Custody to a Relative?
In a perfect world, all children would live with both parents in a safe and loving home. However, this stable and supportive situation does not exist in all families, and children can end up splitting their time between parents, living solely with one parent, or being cared for by relatives.
Child custody, referred to as parental responsibilities under Illinois law, legally and traditionally rests solely with the parents. Parents are presumed to be fit, and efforts are made to keep children under their parents’ care. For a variety of reasons, however, parents are sometimes unable or unsuitable to take on this responsibility, and in these cases, a safe and stable alternative must be found that protects the best interests of the child. The road to achieve custody rights as a non-parent can be difficult, but not impossible.
Challenges to Custody
The biggest challenge any non-parent will face when seeking to assert custody rights is whether he or she has standing to bring the matter before the court. Standing refers to the petitioner’s ability to maintain a legal case. With non-parents, standing will only be found if the child is not in the physical custody of either parent (step-parents and grandparents do not necessarily need physical custody to gain standing if certain conditions are met). The person caring for the child must have obtained possession by consent, acknowledgment, or acquiescence of the parents, and the arrangement needs to be more than temporary.
In other words, the parent must have given up the child voluntarily and indefinitely. The law is stringent in this regard, because parental rights are considered fundamental. A parent cannot lose these rights unless he or she agrees to give them up or they are terminated by a court due to unfitness. Notably, non-parent custody is not permanent, and it can be changed or terminated if circumstances change, and a parent is found capable of assuming caretaking duties.
Factors in Assessment
To convince a court of the necessity to place a child in the custody of a relative or other non-parent, a petitioner must clearly establish that this arrangement is necessary. The best interests of the child is the standard used to evaluate all child custody matters, and courts will generally look at how the child’s welfare can best be promoted.
In the case of non-parents seeking custody, this hurdle can be hard to overcome. Courts want to keep a child with his or her parents, and the farther away a person is from the parent, the harder it will be to prove that the best interests of the child are served by granting custody to that person. Grandparents and step-parents are more naturally viewed as sources of parental love and support, and they often have an easier time showing that custody should rest with them. Any non-parent seeking custodial authority should speak with an experienced family law attorney to learn about the available options.
Contact a Rolling Meadows Family Law Attorney
Caring for a child is a huge responsibility, and if you are a non-parent serving in this capacity, you should talk to an experienced family law attorney about the possibility of petitioning for custody. Custody allows the caretaker to exercise parental powers, which makes it easier to fully provide for a child’s needs. Dedicated Schaumburg child custody lawyer Nicholas W. Richardson understands the sensitivity and challenges of these situations, and he is available to evaluate your legal options and advocate for a child’s best interests in court. Contact our office at 847.873.6741 for a free initial consultation.