Can a Non-Family Member Get Custody of a Child?

Are you seeking guidance on how to get custody of a friend’s child? Navigating this sensitive and complex process requires understanding the legal framework, compassion, and a clear action plan. Let’s explore the essential steps to ensure the child’s best interests are at the forefront.

There is a misbelief that you may not obtain custody of a child, but this is not true in certain circumstances. Here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we have experienced attorneys that can explain your chances of obtaining custody as a third party.

How to Get Custody of a Friend’s Child

Mentioned above is what is known as “Third-Party Custody,” where a non-biological parent is awarded custody of a child. What custody means is that the custodial parent will now have the right to make life decisions for the child directly.

Courts may order a third-party custodian in various situations, such as when the child’s biological parents choose not to retain custody, fail to provide proper care, or are deemed unfit.

Most third-party custody cases arise in emergency situations, like the death, incapacitation, or incarceration of both parents. A parent becomes incapacitated or unfit due to mental illness, substance abuse, or other debilitating conditions, in contrast to incarceration, which involves the imprisonment of the parents.

What is “Standing?” and Do I Have It?

To initiate legal action for custody, you must establish “Legal Standing.” This legal concept determines your eligibility to bring a case to court based on your relationship with the child and the impact of the case’s outcome on your interests.

If you are a distant relative of the child with little connection or involvement in the child’s life, you will likely not have “standing” to seek custody. However, if you have had significant involvement with a child-like primary custodian for several years, you will be standing.

In Texas specifically, you would need to have cared for, controlled, and possessed the child for at least six months to have standing. This can mean having the child live with you, supporting the child’s physical or psychological needs, or showing guidance, governance, and direction similar.

Parental Preference Rule

In Texas, public policy supports the notion of family wholeness, and we pride ourselves on putting our family values first. In summary, courts will prefer to have a child in the custody of a biological parent over a third party because they believe it is in the “best interest” for a child to grow up with their birth parents.

If you are looking to take custody of a child over the child’s biological parents ultimately, you will need to prove that ordering a third-party control would be in the child’s best interest. This can be confirmed if there is evidence of any parents’ abuse, neglect, or drug usage. In Texas, we use the standard of the “Best Interest of the Child” before making decisions regarding custody or support.

Filing for Custody

To begin, regardless of the situation, you will need legal intervention if you seek custody of a child as a third party. This means to have a legally recognized relationship between you and the child; you must go through the Texas family law courts.

Without such, a person may be taking care of a child for a period only to have the biological parents who have the unique right to them come in and request their return.

Termination of Parental Rights/ Adoption

Can a Non-Family Member Get Custody of a Child?

Gaining third-party custody of a child involves a critical step: terminating the biological parents’ rights. This process, known as termination of parental rights, is pivotal in child custody cases.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination

Parental rights termination can be voluntary, where one or both parents willingly relinquish their rights. Alternatively, in an involuntary termination, a court must order the cessation of these rights. Involuntary termination is warranted when continued parental custody is deemed contrary to the child’s best interest. Proving this requires “clear and convincing evidence,” a more stringent standard than the typical “preponderance of the evidence.”

Pathway to Adoption

Once parental rights are terminated, the child becomes eligible for adoption. Notably, it’s not always necessary for both parents to relinquish rights; termination of one parent’s rights can suffice. Before filing for adoption, the child must reside with the prospective adoptive parents for a minimum of six months. Additionally, these parents must undergo a criminal background check and a comprehensive home study.

An essential aspect of adoption proceedings is the child’s representation. An Attorney Ad Litem, assigned specifically to the child, ensures their best interests are at the forefront. This attorney’s insights significantly influence the court’s decision regarding the suitability of the adoption.

In summary, termination of parental rights and adoption are intertwined processes. Adoption can’t proceed unless the biological parent’s rights are appropriately addressed and resolved. This ensures a legal and emotionally secure transition for the child into their new family environment.

Grandparent’s Rights

In Texas, there is a thing known as grandparent’s rights. When you think about it, grandparents are vital to a child’s upbringing, and many have involved roles in raising a child. The bond between a grandparent and a grandchild is so strong. Unfortunately, grandparents do not have rights over their grandchildren unless they have been court-ordered.

However, you may have the standing to bring your lawsuit for things like visitation, custody, or both. You would have to prove that you are the biological grandparent, one parent still has parental rights, and your grandchild will suffer physical or emotional harm without your presence in their life.

Depending on the circumstances, you may have more requirements, but we have dedicated attorneys here to help you figure out if more is required of you.


Suppose you are a grandparent to a child subject to an ongoing child custody lawsuit in Texas. In that case, you can file an intervention, or intervene, in the existing lawsuit if you are seeking custody of your grandchild. This means that as a grandparent, you have an interest in the outcome of the child custody case.

As mentioned before, Texas prefers the children to remain with their biological parents, so you will have to prove more than just your want of custody. For example, you can show that your grandchild has been abused or neglected.

This will require a petition to be appointed as a conservator or guardian. You will have to show again that you are a biological grandparent, one parent still retains parental rights, and absences of access will physically or emotionally impair the child.

Possessory Conservatorship vs. Managing Conservatorship

Two types of conservatorship are available for your grandchild: possessory or managing conservatorship. The main difference between the two is that you will not have any rights or duties to make life decisions for your grandchild in possessory conservatorship. However, you will have visitation rights.

To obtain managing conservatorship, you must demonstrate additional criteria beyond the basic requirements. These include proving that you have cared for your grandchild in your home for over six months, and this arrangement ceased within 90 days prior to filing the intervention petition. Furthermore, if your grandchild and their parent resided with you for six months and left within the past 90 days, you are still eligible to file. Ultimately, the judge must determine that awarding conservatorship aligns with the child’s best interests.

You may also still file if your grandchild and parent have lived with you for six months and have been within the previous 90 days. Lastly, it must be decided by the judge that awarding conservatorship is in the best interest of the child.

The Two Types of Conservatorship


Possessory Conservatorship

Managing Conservatorship

Rights and Duties

Does not have rights or duties to make life decisions for the child.

Has rights and duties to make life decisions for the child.

Living Arrangements

The child does not live with the conservator.

The child lives with the conservator.

Visitation Rights

Has visitation rights.

Has visitation rights.

Child Support

Not entitled to child support from parents.

May be entitled to child support from parents.


Prove biological grandparent status and that absence of access will physically or emotionally impair the child.

All of the above, plus prove that the grandchild lived in the grandparent’s home for six months or more, and this arrangement was disrupted 90 days before filing the petition.

How to Get Custody of a Friend’s Child

The question of “how to get custody of a friend’s child” is one that’s more complex than it seems. This situation calls for a deep understanding of legal procedures and an even deeper pocket for the associated costs.

Navigating through the legal system is like running a marathon. There’s paperwork to be filled out, processes to kickstart, and legal terminologies to decode. Understanding these procedures is the first step to successfully obtaining custody.

Like most things in life, seeking custody comes with a price tag. Attorney fees, court costs, and the potential financial implications of court-ordered evaluations or requirements can add up quickly. It’s crucial to assess your financial capability before embarking on this journey.

Viewing Through Their Eyes: The Child’s Perspective

In a world where adults make the decisions, it’s easy to overlook the child’s viewpoint. Yet, how the child feels and what they want are significant factors that courts consider in custody cases. Keeping their best interests at heart is paramount.

The Emotional Tide: Understanding the Psychological Impact

Can a Non-Family Member Get Custody of a Child?

The process of seeking custody can have a profound psychological impact on the child. This is especially true for older children who comprehend what’s happening. As a third-party seeking custody, it’s essential to be mindful of this impact and take steps to mitigate it.

The Unseen Heroes: The Role of Child Services

Child services or social workers often play an essential role in custody cases. They provide valuable insights about the child’s situation and can offer invaluable assistance.

Claiming the Mantle: Rights of the Third-Party Custodian

As a third-party custodian, it’s crucial to understand your rights in relation to the child, the biological parents, and the state. These rights can dictate the extent of your responsibilities and control over the child’s life.

Case laws and precedents can significantly impact the outcome of a third-party custody case. Understanding these can provide insights into how the court may rule in your situation.

The legal custody battle can strain the relationship between the child and the biological parents. It’s important to consider how this might affect the child and take steps to preserve healthy relationships.

In some cases, the child may be placed in the foster care system during the proceedings. Understanding how this system interacts with third-party custody cases is crucial.

Beyond Borders: Third-Party Custody in Other States/Countries

While this article focuses mainly on the process within the United States, it’s important to note that third-party custody laws and procedures can vary significantly in other states or countries.

Mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods can offer a less aggressive way to resolve custody disputes. These methods prioritize agreement and compromise over legal battles.

Even in third-party custody cases, the biological parents retain certain legal rights. Understanding these rights can help you navigate the complex terrain of custody battles.

Taking on the responsibility of a friend’s child is a noble act, but it’s a journey filled with legal, financial, and emotional challenges. However, with a clear understanding of the process, a commitment to the child’s best interests, and the help of legal professionals, it’s a journey that can lead to a rewarding new chapter for both you and the child.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, obtaining custody of a friend’s child is a multifaceted process that requires careful consideration of legal requirements and the child’s best interests. By understanding the nuances of guardianship laws, seeking legal counsel, and ensuring a supportive and stable environment, you can effectively navigate this challenging yet rewarding journey. Remember, the paramount goal is to provide a nurturing and loving home that prioritizes the well-being and happiness of the child.

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