Florida statute “recognizes that many minor children in this state live with and are well cared for by members of their extended families.” Typically, extended families get involved in the custody of a child after the death of a parent or if a parent has been deemed unfit to care for a child. Chapter 751 of Florida Statutes provides the legal rights and process that extended family must take to be legally recognized as a custodian of a child. Employing a child custody attorney will ensure your rights as custodian are protected and they can walk through the legal process with you. Contact an attorney to begin the process if you need to protect a child.
Florida provides only certain individuals with rights to proceed with bringing an action before a court regarding child custody. This is defined as having standing. Standing requires a party to have sufficient connections to the action in order to maintain a suit before a court. These individuals include: “Any extended family member who has the signed, notarized consent of the child’s legal parents; or Any extended family member who is caring full time for the child in the role of a substitute parent and with whom the child is presently living.” The caregiver must have physical custody of the child currently and for at least 10 days in a 30 day period. The court limits individuals to these specific requirements in order to minimize the child custody petitions presented to the court. It is important understand these qualifications. Discuss with your custody lawyer if you fall within one of these categories and have proper standing to bring a claim before a court regarding child custody.
If determined to fall within the statutory guidelines, you may then proceed with a formal petition for temporary custody of the child. Based upon the petition the court will most notably look to see if the biological parents consent to this custody arrangement and if this change in custody is in the best interest of the child. The court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child’s parents are unfit to provide for the child and the family member’s care is in the best interest of the child. “Determination of the best interests of the child shall be made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of the family.” (61.13) This standard focuses on overall well-being of the child. Once all options have been weighed, the placement that will be best for the child’s overall development will be chosen. Many times, in order for a relative to be given custody, a parent must have been deemed a threat to the child, either physically or emotionally. An experienced custody attorney can assist you in presenting facts to the court to show the benefits of a temporary custody order.
One important factor to this custody arrangement is the temporary status. At any time, a parent may petition the court to modify or terminate the order granting custody to a family member. The court must again find that the parent is fit to provide for the child and it is in the child’s best interest to return to the parent’s custody. As seen in the case of Slover v. Meyer, the maternal grandparents were awarded temporary custody after the mother passed away and the court found the father to be an avid drug user. However, after receiving treatment and engaging in visitation the father was able to petition the court for custody of the child. The court restored his parental rights after determining the success of the father, and his ability to now properly care for the child.
If you are seeking custody of a child within your extended family because you feel that an alternative placement would be in that child’s best interest, contact an attorney who can assist you in appealing to the court on the child’s behalf.
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