What is Third Party Custody?

What’s the difference between non-parental custody cases and divorces? What is third party custody anyway?

We are often asked: “What is non-parental custody? Is third party custody for grandparents?”

Third party custody means that a person other than the biological or adoptive parent of a child has custody of the child. In Washington State, third party custody cases are known as “non-parental” custody actions in the State of Washington.

Over 80% of these cases are filed by concerned grandparents of their grandchild, but that’s not always the case.  Uncles, aunts, step-parents, or even sisters or brothers have been known to step up to protect their nephew or niece and file a non-parental custody action in King and Snohomish County.

All contested child custody cases are emotionally difficult.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it. However, non-parental custody cases take the complexity and emotion to a whole new level. What’s worse: they are legally the most difficult type of custody cases an attorney can pursue.  These cases have a different standard of proof than normal custody cases.

Grandparents pursing non-parental custody cases have a higher burden of proof or “threshold” that their children have pursuing their own conventional custody case.  This means the grandparent must have more evidence than just “my daughter-in-law is a lousy parent”.

Courts approve such cases when it finds that the neither parent has had custody of the child or when it finds that the parents are unfit or unable to care for their children—not simply forgetting to feed a child their Wheaties.

Usually a court will make a finding that neither parent is emotionally, financially or otherwise capable of looking after the child. There must be strong evidence presented to the court to show that the environmental circumstances in either parent’s home are harmful to the child’s physical, emotional, or psychological well-being. These are not easy cases to pursue.

Therefore, one must present a well-established case that includes solid evidence of the parents’ ineptitude, inability, or refusal to provide a safe and secure family environment for the child.  Sometimes third party custody decisions can be overturned.