FAQ About Grandparents’ Rights To Child Custody

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Grandparent’s Rights and Third Party Custody:

What if I am NOT the parent of the child, can I still file for custody?

Generally, third party custody matters involve grandparents. However, anyone seeking custody of a child who is not their biological (or adopted) parent, the individual(s) must show the court that the natural (adopted) parent(s) are unfit (i.e. abuse, drug issues, or neglecting the child) or exceptional circumstances have occurred (i.e. the third party has historically been the primary caregiver of the child or the parent(s) abandoned the child). Further, even if a third party can prove that the natural (adopted) parent(s) are unfit or there are exceptional circumstances, the court must determine whether a custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child the same way they would if the parties are  the natural (adopted) parents.

What if I am NOT the parent of the child and want only visitation, what rights do I have to see the child?

A third party (such as a grandparent) can seek an access schedule to have the child in their physical care during certain times. If this is the only purpose of seeking “custody” of the minor child(ren), then the court will only be required to determine what, if any, access the third party should have with the minor child, by determining what is in that child’s best interest. Specifically: the part must show the court why it is detrimental for the child not to have access to the third party.

What happens if the natural (adopted) parent(s) want to modify a third party custody order, but the third party is not agreeing?

If a Court awards a third party custody (not visitation only, but some form of legal and physical custody) of a child, one or both natural (or adopted) parents can seek a modification to that order. Upon a natural (or adopted) parent’s request for modification, the third party caregiver must present evidence as if there was never an original order providing the third party with custody of the child(ren).

If I am not the natural (or adopted) parent, and do not want custody of the child, is there another option for me to ensure the child is receiving the care he or she needs?

Another alternative to third party custody is to seek guardianship of the minor child. This can be guardianship of the individual and/or the minor child’s property. Guardianship is similar to legal custody and allows the person awarded guardianship to make decisions that affect the minor child’s general health and welfare. It is similar to power of attorney that an adult may give to another adult, but with the court’s authority.

There have also been changes to custody laws in Maryland with regards to De Facto parents and legal custody.

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