Berman & Asbel, LLP

What happens when a custodial parent dies

If a Pennsylvania parent who has custody of a child dies, other members of the family may be concerned when it comes to who will get custody. Depending on the circumstances, some candidates who may become the child's guardian includes the noncustodial parent, grandparents, aunts or uncles, other family members or family friends.

If a noncustodial parent wishes to take custody of the child, they must ensure that paternity has been established. This is done either through a signature on the child's birth certificate by the biological father or a signed acknowledgement of paternity form. This form should be filed so that the court has it on hand. If paternity has not been established prior to the custodial parent's death, the noncustodial parent can still request a paternity test.

If a third party is seeking custody as there are no closer relatives able to take the child in, the court will have the final decision. However, if a third party does have interest in obtaining custody, they should let the court know immediately. The court may also need to know what relationship the third party has with the child and what experience they have with raising children.

Child custody disputes that occur after the custodial parent has died can be particularly difficult. If the noncustodial parent wants custody of the child following the other parent's death, a family law attorney may assist with navigating the legal procedures. The attorney may gather evidence that shows that the noncustodial parent has maintained or has attempted to maintain a strong relationship with the child and that they can afford to provide proper care for their child full time. If a third party is seeking custody, noncustodial parents may also request a visitation schedule so that they can remain in the child's life even if they cannot become the primary caregiver.

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