Although a foster parent is mainly responsible for their foster child’s care, they do not have legal custody of the child. Here is how to fight for custody as a foster parent.

A foster parent is any parent licensed by their state or county to provide a temporary home for a child whose parents are unable to care for them. However, the birth parents still retain legal custody of their child even if they are currently residing in a foster home. A foster parent who wishes to obtain permanent custody of their foster child has to apply for full guardianship.

What is Permanent Custody of a Child?

Foster parents differ from adoptive parents in two distinct aspects. Firstly, foster parents are temporary guardians for the child while adoptive parents are permanent guardians. Adoptive parents also have full permanent and legal custody of their child while foster parents do not. Adoption severs all legal rights of the birth parent to their child and terminates the parent-child relationship. Contrastingly, because fostering does not end the child-birth parent relationship, foster parents often have to work with and respect the rights of the birth parents.

When Does the Court Grant Full Custody of a Foster Child?

California courts mainly prefer to have the child remain with their birth parents if possible. Therefore, permanent custody is only granted when the court believes that it is in the child’s best interests to continue under their current guardianship rather than their birth parents. In order to obtain full custody of the child, the guardian will have to demonstrate that the child will do better under their care.

Related: Child Custody FAQs in California

How to File for a Permanent Custody Order

1. Locate the correct probate court for the county in which either the child lives or the county where there are any of the child’s previous custody orders.

2. Obtain all of the child’s necessary legal documents.

Once the correct probate court has been located, the court will describe the forms necessary to proceed. Commonly, one will need a copy of the birth certificate, and if applicable, a death certificate of the child’s parents. Additionally, the filing will need proof that demonstrates to the court why the child’s parents are unfit to care for the child and why it is in the child’s best interests for them to be their permanent guardian.

3. File a petition with the court for permanent custody.

All necessary court paperwork and the petition must be filed within the deadlines. Any necessary fees must be also paid. Fee waivers are also available.

4. Notify the child’s birth parents regarding the custody order.

The child’s birth parents must receive notice of the filing before the court can set a hearing. This is to ensure that the birth parents have a chance to speak on their own behalf. The birth parents can be notified through certified mail or through a process server.

If the parents are deceased, the individual who has legal custody at that moment must be notified.

5. Attend any guardianship hearings the court requires.

6. Be prepared to comply with any court orders.

The court has the right to home visits, interviews, and criminal background checks of the filing individual(s). The court also requires regular reporting and signing an oath of legal responsibilities of guardianship.

Can Permanent Custody Be Terminated?

It is uncommon for permanent guardianships to be terminated as they are granted in line with the child’s best interests. However, there are some situations where permanent guardianships end, whether by order of the court or other circumstances. Here is every condition that results in the termination of permanent custody:

  • The child reaches the age of eighteen and no longer requires guardianship.
  • The child is adopted, gets married, joins the military, or is otherwise declared as an adult by the court.
  • The child dies before turning eighteen.
  • The court decides to terminate the guardianship.

Related: 5 Ways A Mother Can Lose Custody of Her Child in California

Because a permanent custody order does not sever the parent-child relationship, a child under permanent guardianship is still eligible for adoption from other parties. Additionally, birth parents maintain the right to file for a custody order modification in the future as they still have rights over their child.

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If you’re wondering if a foster parent can fight for child custody, contact us. We’ll get you in touch with the most qualified attorney for your unique legal matter. We’re here for you 24/7. Your initial consultation is free.