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Seeking Third Party Custody in Indiana

On Behalf of | Aug 20, 2021 | Family Law

If a child’s biological parents no longer represent what is in the best interest of the child, a third party can seek child custody through legal actions.

Third-Party Custody in Indiana

In child custody cases, Indiana courts always place emphasis on the best interest of the child. In some cases, children living with their biological parents are put in harm’s way by one or both parents’ actions such as physical neglect or abuse, verbal abuse, violence in the home, and mental illness. To protect children from harm, a third party may take legal actions through Indiana courts to obtain child custody.

In most third-party custody cases, the third party is usually a family relative like a grandparent, a parent’s sibling, or a parent’s adult child. However, Indiana courts allow third-party custody through several legal options, as long as the option benefits the best interest of the child.

Family Relative

The Indiana Supreme Court allows any “person other than a parent” to file a petition to seek custody of a minor child. Family relatives who have evidence of harm or endangerment to a child can file for third-party custody of that child. An Indiana family law attorney can file a third-party custody petition with the court and present documented evidence of child endangerment.

De Facto Custodian

Under Indiana law, “de facto custodian” is defined as a person who provides primary care and primary financial support of a minor child for at least one year, or at least six months if the child is less than three years old. The one-year period does not require 12 consecutive months. In “de facto custodian” cases, a provision excludes custodianship during any time parents are involved in a legal custody dispute.


Through legal guardianship, a third party may obtain court-approved custody of a minor child. Guardianship is usually considered a temporary status by the court, but it can become permanent in some cases. Unless one or both parents move to modify child custody orders through the court, legal guardianship remains in place. However, guardianship does not terminate parental rights.


Adoption is another avenue for third-party custody when it is unlikely that a child will be returned to his/her biological parents. This often applies to cases where a biological parent is mentally ill or incarcerated for a crime. Since adoption permanently severs all rights of the biological parents, a family law attorney should thoroughly explain the legal process of adoption.