They say that it takes a village to raise a child. There are many situations where a child’s birth parents may not be the best-equipped to support a child, and other adults in the family may step up to care for the children. Some of the most common family members to do this will be the grandparents or aunts or uncles. Our Ventura child custody lawyers explain when courts will grant child custody to aunts and uncles in California and how you may be able to fight to get custody over your nieces or nephews.
How Do Aunts and Uncles Get Child Custody over Nieces or Nephews?
In California, the birth parents are typically the parties that will debate custody in the event of a divorce, legal separation, or breakup. Any time parents live in separate households, the court should be involved to grant child custody and child support orders dictating who has the right to access the children and who must pay to support them. However, sometimes the circumstances are more complex, and other responsible adults may be better equipped to care for the children.
California law gives first priority for custody rights to the parents. However, if the court does not give custody to either parent, it can instead grant custody to any other adult who has been caring for the child. This typically refers to foster parents who might take the child in a moment of need, such as if both parents are arrested, hospitalized, or otherwise unable to care for the children.
Aunts and uncles are popular choices for adults to act as foster parents. Courts prefer to keep children in their own family if that is possible, and aunts and uncles may be better equipped to care for younger children than grandparents. Placing a child into foster care with their own aunts or uncles may be helpful for the child to maintain some sense of normalcy, and a period of foster care for your niece or nephew can show the court that you are willing and able to care for them.
After having your niece or nephew live in your house, you may have standing to ask for permanent child custody. If the court finds that the parents should not have custody, you may claim custody for yourself as the person whom the children have been living with.
Reasons to Take Custody Away from the Parents
For a court to give you custody as an aunt or uncle over your sibling’s rights as the child’s parent, there must be a strong reason that the parents are seen as unfit. When confronted with claims that giving custody to the birthparents would be “detrimental to the child,” the court can consider nonparents who can potentially take custody of the children.
The following are examples of situations where a court will commonly strip a parent of custody in order to protect the child’s best interests:
- The parent has an addiction or substance abuse problem that keeps them from caring for their children.
- The parent has been arrested or faced repeat criminal allegations that call the child’s safety into question.
- The parent has a history of abuse against the children, the other parent, or another person in the household.
- The parent has health or mental health problems that make it impossible for them to care for their children.
Keep in mind that these factors are commonly used to strip one parent of custody. However, if the other parent is willing and able to take custody of their children, courts will typically prefer to place the child with a parent over another family member. To gain custody over the parent’s objections, you will need to prove that these kinds of detriments exist for both parents. If the children only have one parent in the picture, it is sufficient to prove that that parent is unfit.
How to Handle Custody Cases Against your Siblings
Proving that your sibling is an unfit parent is usually something that will drive a wedge between family members. When looking out for the best interests of your nieces and nephews, it may be necessary to stand up to your sibling and go to court against them. However, this is not the case in every custody case involving aunts and uncles.
In many cases, the parent may understand that they are not a good influence on their children, and they may actively seek out help from their parents or siblings to help raise their children. In these cases, it may be much simpler to transfer custody to an aunt or uncle.
Alternatively, you may be able to be appointed as your niece or nephew’s legal guardian instead of taking child custody. This is common in cases where parents are battling health problems, traveling abroad, or leaving home for an extended period of time and need someone else to care for their children. In extreme cases where your sibling wants to give you their children as a final decision, you may even file for adoption for your niece or nephew.
Talk to an attorney before making any decisions to help you understand the legal consequences of each option, including whether you can get child support as an aunt or uncle.
Ventura Child Support Lawyers Offering Free Consultations for Aunts and Uncles
If you are an aunt or uncle seeking custody of your niece or nephew, contact our Ventura family lawyers. Our attorneys represent aunts and uncles in custody battles and work to protect the best interests of your nieces and nephews. To schedule a free legal consultation, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.