Obtaining legal rights to a child who isn't yours

We talk a lot here about parents' rights to child custody. However, in too many cases, sadly, neither parent is able to care for a minor child -- often due to addiction, mental illness and/or incarceration. Some parents simply aren't fit to raise a child. They may be abusive or negligent.

In many of these cases, other family members -- often grandparents -- will step in and take over that responsibility. People who care for a child who isn't their own, but without an official court order, are considered de facto custodians.

Because they don't have legal rights to the child, a parent could challenge their involvement in raising a child in court. However, if they can provide convincing evidence that they have been de facto custodians, they may be able to successfully gain custody if a parent is unfit or unable to do the job.

When grandparents or other family members are granted parental rights by a court, they become the child's legal guardians until his or her 18th birthday. Having legal guardianship doesn't prevent the parent from having contact with a child. A judge, however, can step in and determine how much and under what circumstances, a parent can see a child.

There are other types of responsibilities other than custody that can be given to family members or others for a child's benefit. For example, parents may choose to designate someone else as a parental power of attorney. When one parent is out of the picture or dead, the parent raising the child may authorize another family member to make decisions -- such as those regarding medical care -- if they're unable to do so. These POAs can be limited in duration and scope, depending on the parent's and child's needs.

Another example is conservatorship. For example, if both parents die and a minor child inherits the estate and/or receives survivor benefits, a conservator can be appointed to control that money until the child is legally an adult. The conservator may or may not also be the child's legal guardian.

If you are seeking guardianship or other legal rights over a child who isn't your own, it's important to understand state laws and what your options are. Experienced New York family law attorneys help people fight for what's in the best interests of the child.

Source: Post Register, " Grandparents' guide to legal terms," Mychel Matthews, Twin Falls Times-News, Dec. 26, 2016

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