The term child custody brings to mind parents and children. But there can be other parties to child custody litigation. Child custody rights are not limited to parents alone. Grandparents and close relatives of the child can also seek custody of the child. Even if the parents are not married, the issue of child custody must be decided if they decide to break off their relationship. This section has information about child custody and visitation in cases where the parents of the child are not married to each other.
In case the parents are unmarried, the law in most states award sole physical custody to the mother unless the father requests for custody. Even if the father requests custody, the courts seldom grant custody to the father in such cases but the father has priority over other relatives of the child and will be awarded visitation rights.
When it comes to child custody, the options before married and unmarried parents are identical. They must either resolve the issues between themselves or the court will decide the issue for them. However unmarried parents need not worry about the other issues associated with a divorce proceeding – property division and alimony. As such the process is much simpler for unmarried couples.
Generally in case of unmarried parents, the court will look to see who the child’s primary caretaker is.
The law has provisions for awarding custody of the children to persons other than the parents. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, close family friends and other can apply to get custody of the children. However they must prove that it is in the best interest of the children that they be awarded custody of the children. Different states use different terminology to describe this type of custody.
To get custody, the person seeking custody must file a petition or application for custody specifying his or her relationship with the children and the reasons for custody. The parents must be served with a copy of the petition or application and can object to the application. Click on the links to see sample petitions/applications:
Grandparents also have the right to apply for visitation under certain circumstances. If the grandparents have been awarded visitation rights but one or both parents interfere with the visitation, then the grandparents can apply to the court to enforce the visitation. All states have laws protecting grandparent rights.