Circumstances may arise when a non-parent needs to provide care for a child. This could be a family member of a child, or an individual that finds themselves caring for a child because the child’s parents are unable to. This may happen for many reasons, including mental illness, death, deployment, incarceration, or abandonment by the parents. There are several avenues available for an individual to pursue if they are providing non-parent care to a child.
Several considerations must be analyzed to decide what the best mechanism will be for providing non-parent care. Some factors that should be considered are: cost of implementation, consent of biological parents, expected length of placement, right to enroll in school or obtain medical care for the child, reporting requirements, and ease of overturning by the biological parents.
The easiest, but least durable form of third party care, is an informal placement, where a child resides with another individual by agreement of the parents. There is no legal mechanism to enforce an informal placement, and there are no rights to make decisions for the child or to obtain child support with an informal placement, unless specifically provided to the individual in a legal document. If the Department of Child Services is involved, a child can be placed with a non-parent. If a child is placed with a non-parent by DCS, the placement can only be terminated by DCS or by Court intervention. DCS placement can continue for an indefinite period of time, and will be controlled by DCS and/or the Courts.
Guardianships are also available for minor children. A guardianship is a formal, legally supported mechanism to obtain the care and control of a minor child. The cost of a guardianship is borne by the individual filing for guardianship, and can be significant. A guardianship can last until the child turns eighteen, and decision making abilities and child support orders are available to the guardian. Guardianships have reporting requirements that must be met by the guardian. A guardianship can be overturned by the biological parent but only with a Court Order.
An individual can also seek outright custody of a child. The considerations of custody are similar to that of a guardianship. However, an individual with custody of a child does not have any reporting requirements with the Court. A person seeking third-party custody of a child must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s best interests would be substantially and significantly served by placement with the third party.
All forms of third party custody will be easier to obtain if the biological parents consent. However, consent by the biological parent is not necessary. The only form of non-parent care that cannot be overturned by the biological parent is if the child is adopted or the parent’s parental rights are terminated. The attorneys at Slotegraaf Niehoff can help you decide which avenue is best for you if you are attempting to obtain non-parent care of a minor child.