Third Party Custody Actions
What is third party custody in Texas?
Third Party Custody actions refer to someone who is not the biological parent gaining custody of a child. Third party custody is a type of legal action where you, in essence, become the parent of a minor child (or children). Third Party Custody cases have a higher level of scrutiny from the court, as they should. In most cases, the person asserting custody will have a preexisting biological relationship. Grandparents or any relative who is “within the third degree of consanguinity” can file suit for custody. Texas law provides special consideration for grandparents.
Third Party Custody Law divides into three distinct areas.
1) The parents agree and you already have possession of the child.
Provide you meet the criteria to file, you can file an original suit for conservatorship. This is the easiest and least expensive way to proceed under third party custody law in Texas.
2) The parents don’t agree and they have custody.
Provided you meet the criteria, you still file an original suit for conservatorship. Because the parents don’t agree, you must be prepared to demonstrate that they are unfit. Under Texas law, this means that you must show that the “present circumstances would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development”. This is a tough standard to meet.
3) CPS is involved and the parents don’t agree.
When CPS is involved, you need to be able to show the court that:
1). The Parents are Unfit
It is not enough to merely assert that the natural parents are doing a poor job. Even if you’re a better parent who would blow away the best interests of the child standard, you won’t win.
In this case, unfit means that the parents:
- Abandoned or severely neglected the child
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abused the child
- Suffer from drug addiction; or
- They are in Prison
2). Meet the substantial prior contacts standard. Ideally, the child is residing with the third party parent before the action is filed. This makes the standard is easier to meet. When CPS is involved things get really complicated. If there is an existing active CPS case, you’ll need to intervene in the CPS case and proceed in that case concurrently at the same time you pursue your own custody case. Intervention requires you meet the substantial prior contacts standard. That means you either are a Grandparent or have substantial past contacts. Be prepared to be thoroughly examined: criminal history checks, a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations, and other background checks are common.
Compassionate Counsel, Strong Litigation
These are emotionally difficult proceedings since they can pit family against family. Our focus is on ensuring the court understands the needs of the child and does not see us as just seeking to punish an unfit parent. Keep in mind third party custody is not permanent. It’s not the same as terminating the biological parental rights. They can be modified. The biological parents could reassert themselves. If you want to adopt a child in your care, you must terminate the parental rights of the biological parents. This can be done two ways: state action or they agree to it. If you have natural parents who are very determined to get their kids back, understand that your situation can be fluid.
For a Half-Hour Consultation call (214) 396-6099
Engel Law Firm of Dallas, Texas, represents grandparents and other relatives in third party custody cases. Our experienced family law Attorney practices in Dallas County, Collin County, and Tarrant County. Contact our office at (214) 396-6099 to arrange a consultation.