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Guardianship vs. Third Party Custody

What is third party custody? Third party custody most often refers to an individual who is not a biological or adoptive parent who is seeking specific custody rights with a minor child. Third party custody was only recently recognized by the Missouri Supreme Court in In re T.Q.L., 386 S.W.3d 135, 140 (Mo. Banc 2012) and expanded in A.A.B. vs. A.D.L. and J.B.U., No. ED 106024, April 17, 2019. Prior to 2012, third-party custody petitions were routinely dismissed for lack of standing, in deference to the rights of parents, regardless of who might have been raising the child or what the best interests of the child dictated.

This change in Missouri law is important because it recognizes the change in family systems, and it allows courts greater discretion to make orders that both protect and serve the best interests of a child. Many children are being raised by Grandparents, aunts, uncles, stepparents, and same sex couples who may not have a biological; but a familial tie to the child.

What is the other significance of third-party custody? The other significance related to third-party custody is that Missouri courts have routinely declined to enter specific visitation orders in Guardianship cases. This meant that if there were multiple extended family members or third parties who had an interest in having a relationship with a child it was a winner take all kind of outcome in probate court with respect to a Guardianship proceeding. With third-party custody courts can now enter very specific visitation orders that both protect and allow additional family members to have a relationship with the child.

Third parties in Missouri who stand in the position of “in loco parentis” should consider all legal options available which now include third-party custody.