It often happens that children have strong bonds and interactions with individuals other than their biological parents as they grow up, such as their grandparents, step-parents, family friends, and other relatives who have helped take care of them. Unfortunately, relationships between a child’s biological parents and their other caregivers sometimes go south, bringing to the surface questions and concerns people have on how to remain a permanent fixture in a child’s life.
There is a strong belief that it is in a child’s best interests to be in the custody of his or her natural parents, and so non-biological parents typically have an uphill battle when it comes to obtaining custody. However, it is still feasible for the non-biological parent of a child to assert his rights as a parent and seek custody. In fact, Colorado custody law enumerates different circumstances that give non-biological parents custody rights over a child.
One such scenario giving non-biological parents custody rights over a child is when a child is not under the physical care of either biological parent. Colorado laws do not specifically define “physical care,” and so when a non-biological parent files for custody of a child, courts examine the frequency, duration, and nature of contact between both the child and his or her biological parents, as well as the child and the non-biological parents.
If, for instance, a child’s parents drop him or her off at the grandparents’ or family friend’s house without a defined reason and they are gone for a lengthy period of time without contacting the child, such a scenario may meet the standard of the child being under the physical care of a third party.
Note that any third party may file for custody. Also, a third party does not necessarily have to have the child under his or her physical care to seek custody so as long as the child is not under the care of either biological parent.
Another scenario that gives non-biological parents custody rights over a child is if the child is under the physical care of the third party for more than half a year, and if he or she is not under the third party’s physical care any longer and the third party seeks custody within six months of the physical care ending. Importantly, physical care does not have to be exclusive. A common situation is when a child stays with relatives and one or both parent takes the child back home.
If it has been established that a third person is entitled to file for custody of the child, the court then determines how to best allocate custody. The court does not follow the same standard used in a custody battle between two biological parents, and so the court presumes that the biological parent is acting in the child’s best interests. Of course, the non-biological parent may refute such presumption with proof that the biological parent does not act in the child’s best interests.
A court-appointed expert, therefore, may need to determine the best custody allocation for the child, taking into account factors such as the involvement of both the biological and non-biological parents in the child’s life, as well as the state of health of the biological parents. The judge closely examines these facts, and then makes a decision based on what is best for the child.