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How and When Children Are Placed with Extended Family Members

In an ideal world, all children would live with both parents in happy and stable homes, but circumstances do not always work out so well, and many children are left in single parent homes or living with relatives. The reasons that can lead to a child living with just one parent or no parent at all run the gamut – divorce, death, drug addiction and abuse are commonly cited as the basis for a change in the home structure of a child. While most children will not experience the drastic change that comes when a parent dies, abuses a child or suffers from an addiction, those that do often come into contact with the family law system through the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF). Even in cases with DCF involvement, the goal is almost always to keep children in the custody of their parents, but it will also step in and place the children with other family members if necessary. A recent news story in the Sun Sentinel is an example of a situation where a child was placed with an aunt because the mother has mental health and addiction issues that inhibit her ability to responsibly and adequately care for her son. Florida law has provisions that specifically address custody arrangements with extended family members when the parents are unable to care for their child.

Purpose of the Law

The purpose of this law that permits extended family members to petition a court for custody is to help these individuals gain the legal authority they need to fully and properly care for the child. It allows a court to grant two types of custody arrangements to extended family members – temporary and concurrent. Temporary custody is granted when the child’s parents consent or are found to be unfit because they abused, abandoned or neglected the child, and consequently, are unable to provide proper care. Concurrent custody is applicable when the parents consent to the extended family member holding physical custody of the child, while the parents retain their parental rights over the child. The law specifically aims to give the relative caretakers the legal authority they need to consent to third party care and request the child’s medical and educational records.

Who Can Ask for Custody

The party asking for custody must be related by blood or marriage to the parent in the third degree, or the child’s stepparent if there are no pending lawsuits between the couple. Further, the relative needs the signed consent of the parents for temporary or concurrent custody or evidence the relative is providing all the childcare and currently has the child living with him/her. Petitions for concurrent custody also require the relative to have physical custody of the child for at least ten days during any 30 day period for the previous year and no legal document from the parents giving the relative authority to fully care for the child.

Parents’ Object

Both parents must be given notice of a petition asking for custody by an extended family member. If either parent objects, the court cannot grant concurrent custody and can only grant temporary custody if the parents are found to be unfit. Additionally, either parent can ask the court to modify or terminate temporary custody at any time, which will be granted if the parents are determined to be fit, the parties consent, or it is in the best interest of the child. Concurrent custody can be terminated if either parent later objects to the custody arrangement.

Get Legal Help

If you are a relative caring for a family member’s minor child or the parent of a child living with another family member, it is important to speak to a lawyer about formalizing the arrangement so the caretaker can act as the child’s legal guardian. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian P.A. understands the complexities and emotions in family situations and wants to help you find the best solution. Contact the office to schedule a free consultation.

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