Visitation and Custody Rights of Third Parties

Child custody and visitation proceedings are controlled by strict protocols in the state of Maryland. A judge can bestow child custody or visitation rights on a third party only if certain circumstances exist. Here, the family law attorneys at Rodier Family Law provide an overview of visitation and custody rights of third parties.

Defining Third Parties and De Facto Parents

A third party is anyone who is not a legal parent of the child in question: this can include grandparents, other relatives and family friends. A third party can potentially establish themselves as a “de facto parent”—someone the court treats as a parent—if the third party can meet several criteria. To be deemed a de facto parent, one must prove that:

  • The legal parent consented to and fostered the relationship between the third party and child,
  • The third party has lived with the child,
  • The third party has performed parental functions for the child to a significant degree, and
  • A parent-child bond has formed between the third party and child over an appropriate period

Whether or not a third party has met these criteria will be decided by the court. A de facto parent is more likely to be successful in petitioning for custody of a child versus a third party, however, a third party may still petition for custody, as described below.

Custody Rights of De Facto Parents and Third Parties

Between two fit parents a determination of custody is based on the concept of best interest of the child. Third parties must show that the legal parents are either unfit or exceptional circumstances exist before the court can consider awarding custody to a third party in accordance with the best interest of the child. A de facto parent, unlike a third party, is not required to first show unfitness of the legal parent(s) or exceptional circumstances in order to be awarded custody rather the court considers best interest of the child(ren).

In many cases extraordinary circumstances often pertain to factors that relate to the relationship formed between the third party and the child. One such factor may be the age of the child when the third party began caring for them and the length of time before the legal parent sought to reestablish themselves as the caretaker of the child. Other factors might also be the potential level of emotional distress that could be caused to the child by a separation from the third party, as well as the sincerity of the legal parent’s desire for custody of their child.

Visitation Rights of Third Parties and De Facto Parents

Unless the court orders otherwise, an individual granted custody, whether a legal parent, de facto parent or third party, is responsible for creating a visitation schedule for other individuals in the child’s life. A legal parent, de facto parent or grandparent who is not awarded custody may, however, petition the court for visitation if the custodian has not permitted them visitation with the child.  A grandparent will generally only be awarded visitation if they can show that the parents are unfit or exceptional circumstances exist that indicate the lack of visitation with the grandparent has a significant negative impact upon the child.

Do Not Petition for Custody or Visitation Alone

While it can be more difficult for a third party or de facto parent to receive custody, it is possible, and acquiring the assistance of a family law attorney to help you petition for custody or visitation is a critical step to improving your chances of success. The family law attorneys at Rodier Family Law are dedicated to helping individuals pursue the custody or visitation rights they feel they deserve—contact us today for more information about how Rodier Family Law can help!