Most child custody disputes in central Florida divorces involve a dispute between the child’s natural parents. Occasionally, however, a third party such as an aunt or uncle or grandparent may attempt to obtain custody of one or more of the divorcing couple’s minor children. In such cases, the court must decide whether the natural parents are fit to have custody of the child.

A third party who seeks custody of a child must file a petition for temporary or concurrent custody. The petition must be served upon the child’s natural parents. If the natural parents do not object, the court can forthwith grant physical custody to the petitioner if the court finds that such an order serves the bests interests of the child. If one of the child’s parents objects to the petition, the matter must be set for further hearing and converted to a petition for temporary custody.

In acting on the petition for temporary custody, the court can grant the petition only upon a finding “by clear and convincing evidence” that the child’s parents are “unfit to provide for the care and control of the child.” In determining that a parent is unfit, the court must specifically find that the parent has abused, abandoned or neglected the child. The order granting temporary custody to a third party can also provide for regular visitation by the child’s parents. The order for temporary custody must also state that the child’s parents can file a motion to obtain physical custody of the child at any time.

If a third party makes a motion for temporary custody, the overall issue of custody can become very complicated. The determination of parental fitness may involve psychiatric testimony or divisive testimony from family members. The assistance of an experienced divorce attorney may be extremely helpful; a knowledgeable attorney can provide a useful evaluation of the situation and helpful suggestions for reaching a suitable compromise.