A number of things can happen in life that might make it seem like a good idea to transfer care and custody of your child to someone else. Signing over custody to your child's other parent can be simple, but the process can become a lot more complicated if you want to give custody to someone else.
Understand What Kind of Custody You’re Signing Over
“Custody” is a broad term. It can mean either physical custody – who your child lives with most of the time – or legal custody, which refers to who makes major decisions regarding the child’s life. These decisions include what medical care she should receive, where she goes to school and even what faith she’ll be raised in. You’ll be relinquishing one or both of these rights when you sign over custody.
This is one area where it's critical to speak with an attorney who can sensitively and expertly guide you through the process and help you explore all the options before you involve the court. When it comes to child contact and custody, there are potentially many arrangements that can be put in place without taking the drastic step of giving up some or all of your parental rights. Laws vary by state, and it is always advisable to clarify the situation with an attorney if you are thinking about signing over your rights. It might not be easy to regain custody in future when you are in a better position for it.
Work Out the Details
If you decide to press ahead, start by creating a written agreement with the person to whom you want to give custody. The more details you go into, the better. Specify the type of custody you’re awarding. Set a visitation schedule. Will you see your child and, if so, when? Where will your child spend birthdays and holidays? Will you have vacation time with her?
Involve the Court
Take the agreement to a notary after you’ve drafted it. Your signature and that of the person you’re giving custody to should be witnessed before you submit it to the court for the judge’s approval.
The type of court procedure depends on whether you have an existing custody order. If you were divorced and you’re giving custody to your ex, you can submit the agreement to the court that granted your divorce under that case’s docket number. Likewise, if you have any other custody order in place between you and your ex, and that’s who you’re signing over custody to, use the same court and docket number. If you have no custody order and you want to turn custody over to a relative or friend, you’ll most likely have to open a new case with the court by first filing a petition. The rules for this vary by state, so check with your local court clerk or legal aid office to find out what’s required.
In any case, the judge may call for a hearing after he reviews your agreement. Both you and the person to whom you’re giving custody will most likely have to appear in court to confirm that you understand the agreement you’ve made and that you want the judge to make it into an official court order. He will probably also order child support, obligating you to help support your child even if you no longer have custody.
The Best Interests of the Child
Judges typically sign off on agreements between parents, making them into enforceable court orders without too much fuss. The situation can become more complicated, though, if you want to give custody to someone else. The judge will want to make sure that removing your child from parental custody and care is in his best interests. He’ll want to know your reasons for the request, such as that you don’t consider yourself capable of caring for your child. He may want to know the identity and whereabouts of your child’s other parent because courts prefer to keep children with a parent when at all possible. And if your child's other parent has not relinquished his own parental rights, and the court has not terminated his rights for any reason, you can’t sign away his right to custody to anyone else – legally, he has first dibs.
If You Change Your Mind
Signing over custody is a serious and potentially permanent step, although if you give custody to a nonparent, you typically retain the right to return to court to reverse the arrangement later. You would most likely have to prove to the court’s satisfaction that the situation that caused you to sign over custody in the first place has been remedied. Speak with an attorney who can help you make a decision and explore your legal options.