Understanding Third Party Custody
A guardianship grants a person other than a parent legal and physical custody over a child. Third party custody also grants legal and physical custody over a child to a non-parent. Guardianship and third party custody actions protect a minor child under 18 years of age who is not emancipated. However, guardianship and third party custody are not interchangeable terms.
If a paternity adjudication or a dissolution of marriage proceeding has been filed with a separate court, the probate court does not have jurisdiction. The paternity or dissolution court has continuing jurisdiction over the child and is able to grant or modify custody to a third party.
Parties who seek guardianship or third party custody of a child are most often related to the child (grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters). These individuals are worried that the child has been abandoned, abused, neglected or is currently at risk. Many petitioners are conflicted between wanting to protect the child and not wanting to alienate the child’s parents, who are typically close relatives. Contested third party custody proceedings are emotional and sometimes financially taxing on the petitioners and the child’s parents.