Legal Dictionary

third-party custody

Definition of third-party custody

Further reading

In some custody situations, it is possible that the child/children will not remain with either of their natural, biological, parents, but instead custody is awarded to a third person. Generally speaking, third-party custody occurs when one of two options occur:

  • The biological parents do not want custody of the child/children.
  • The biological parents are incapable of caring for the child/children.

Voluntary relinquishment

Occasionally, parents will agree to allow an adult (who is not either of the two parents) to raise their child/children. Generally, if either parent changes his/her mind later in the child's life, he/she has the option to seek custody at that point.

Unfit parents

Custody may be awarded to a third adult (who is not either of the two parents) because the parents both seemed unfit to do so. Reasons that the court would retain authority over the child/children and later award custody to a third adult include:

  • Child abuse/neglect.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Deliberate deserting/abandonment of the child/children.
  • Inability to provide an adequate income which is necessary for the raising of a child.

Other forms of custody

  • alternating custody - an arrangement whereby the child/children live for an extended period of time with one parent, and then for a similar amount of time with the other parent. While the child/children are with the parent, that parent retains sole authority over the child/children.
  • bird's nest custody - an arrangement whereby the parents go back and forth from a residence in which the child/children reside, placing the burden of upheaval and movement on the parents rather than the child/children.
  • joint custody - an arrangement whereby both parents have legal custody and/or both parents have physical custody.
  • sole custody - an arrangement whereby only one parent has physical and legal custody of a child.
  • split custody - an arrangement whereby one parent has full time custody over some children, and the other parent has full custody over the other children


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1.     lex causae
2.     lex situs
3.     lex loci celebrationis
4.     scienter
5.     lex domicilii
6.     AORO
7.     quorum
8.     adjudication order
9.     lex patriae
10.     Miranda warning