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Can a Third Party Receive Child Custody over a Fit Biological Parent?

Bergen County Divorce Lawyer | Jeffrey M. Bloom

Can a Third Party Receive Child Custody over a Fit Biological Parent?

Child custody disputes are some of the most gut-wrenching aspects of family law. Anytime you have two people vying for the custody rights of a child, it’s going to be an emotional process. While most child custody cases involve the two biological parents, there are certain situations where the dispute is between a biological parent and a third party (typically another family member). While the biological parent will usually receive custody over a third party if he or she is deemed to be a fit parent, it’s not guaranteed to be the outcome of the case.

When a child custody battle involves a fit parent and a third party, the fit parent is almost always entitled to receive custody based on the presumption that the parent will protect the child’s welfare the best. However, there are some circumstances when a third party can overcome this presumption and receive custody of the child. In order for this to occur, two criteria must be met:

The standards for termination of parental rights (unfitness, abandonment, or gross misconduct) must be met or the court must find that “exceptional circumstances” exist. Often, “exceptional circumstances” are granted when the third party establishes that they have become the child’s psychological parent.
If the above-mentioned standards are met, the third party may receive custody if the court deems that this is in the best interests of the child.
In order to establish that the third party has developed a “parent-like” relationship with the child, the following four criteria must be fulfilled:

  • The biological parent consented to, and fostered, the third party’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child.
  • The child has lived in the same house as the third party.
  • The third party assumed parental obligations by taking on a significant share of the responsibility for the child’s development, care, and education. This includes contributing to the child’s support, both emotionally and financially.
  • The third party has taken on this parental role for a long enough time to have established a bonded, dependent relationship with the child.

If the third party can satisfy all four of these criteria in the eyes of the court, then and only then will the court evaluate whether awarding custody to the third party is in the best interests of the child. If one or more of these criteria can’t be met and the biological parent is deemed fit, then custody will be awarded to the biological parent.

Jeffrey M. Bloom is a family law attorney with more than 25 years of experience fighting for the rights of individuals in West New York and Hudson County, New Jersey. If you’re trying to establish child custody as a third party, Mr. Bloom can help.

Please contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey M. Bloom using the form on the right side of the page or call (855) 208-3650 today to schedule a child custody consultation. We serve patients in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.

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