There are any number of reasons why it's in a child's best interests to be raised, at least for a time, by someone other than a parent. A mom and/or dad may be incarcerated, have addiction problems, be physically, mentally or financially unable to care for a child, or there may be abuse or negligence involved.

Generally, responsibility for the child falls to a family member -- frequently a grandparent. If parents willingly turn over that responsibility, it's often best for all. However, in some cases, grandparents or other family members have to take legal steps to get the child into safe hands. Regardless of the situation, it's essential to understand child custody law and what various types of guardianship and other responsibilities entail.

De Facto Custodian

This simply means that you have been caring for a minor child, but without any legal sanctions. If people can show that they have been acting as a de facto custodian, it can help them gain custody or other legal status if they move to do so.


This is a person who's been awarded parental rights by a court until a child turns 18. Generally, someone petitions a court for guardianship. The parent(s) still have a right to contact with the child, unless there is a court order in place restricting that.

Parental Power of Attorney

This doesn't necessarily involve parents giving up a child. It gives someone the authority to make decisions for a child in the parent's absence. For example, a single parent may authorize a family member to have this authority if he or she is away. It can be helpful in emergency situations where a parent isn't available.

Guardian Ad Litem

These are court-appointed volunteers whose job it is to speak for children and advocate for their safety and well-being, generally when there's not a family member able to do so. Some are affiliated with the National CASA Association (court appointed special advocates), but it's not a requirement.

If you're seeking custody of a child in your family, it's essential to understand the laws in your state and how best to make your case to the court. An experienced family law attorney can help you work to do what's best for the child.