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Family ties: companionship and custody rights

Filed under Resources

In some situations, people other than birth parents play important roles in a child’s life. It may be a step-parent and step-child who want to strengthen their relationship through adoption. It may be a relative who cares for a child when parents are unable to do so.

Companionship rights are legal recognition of a non-parent’s right to spend time with a child. Companionship rights can be negotiated for grandparents, step-parents and others when a court determines that it is in the best interests of the child. To be blunt, many believe that this flies in the face of parents’ constitutional right to make decisions regarding their children.

When and why are companionship rights granted despite what parents want? One example is where grandparents have had an extensive role in raising children. A total separation of the grandparents from the children could cause the children emotional harm. Courts may step in to prevent this harm, even over a parent’s objections. But this is an unsettled area of the law, still open to argument. Read more about companionship and visitation.

Custody is a specific bundle of rights to the possession and control of a minor child. By law, a single mother is the natural custodian of her minor child. Married parents are the natural custodians of their children. These relationships can be modified by courts under various circumstances; in some cases non-parents may be granted custody.

Adoption is how the law bestows the status of parent, with all its rights and responsibilities, on a person who is not the biological parent of a child.

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