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Third-Party Rights in North Carolina Child Custody Cases: Ellison v. Ramos

While many custody disagreements involve grandparents, there are third parties who may also want custody of a couple’s children. Custody disputes can be extremely contentious and emotionally charged. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our compassionate child custody lawyers understand the stakes are high, which is why we will zealously advocate for your rights.

In Ellison v. Ramos, a father’s former romantic interest sued him for custody of his diabetic daughter. The father and the woman were in a relationship and resided together for some time, during which the woman acted like a mother to the child. She alleged that during her relationship with the father, she was the one who cared for the child. Even after the father and she broke up, the child lived with her exclusively for almost 12 months. The father eventually took the child to Puerto Rico to live with the child’s paternal grandparents, even though they were not equipped to deal with the child’s special needs.

The child stated that the woman was the responsible “parent” when it came to her care. The child also confirmed that the woman indeed took the child to her medical appointments, bought her clothes and school supplies, and took her to school, as well as attended parent-teacher conferences. In addition, the woman provided in-home care to the child and made sure she was receiving proper care for her condition.

The woman sought the return of the child from Puerto Rico to the United States. The trial court determined that she did not have standing and dismissed the lawsuit. She appealed.

The appeals court explained that state law was not created to give strangers the right to bring a custody or visitation lawsuit against parents of unrelated children because this type of right would “conflict with the constitutionally-protected paramount right of parents to custody, care and control of their children.”

Furthermore, the court stated that standing may be found in a child custody matter when there is “a relationship in the nature of parent and child relationship, even in the absence of a biological relationship.” Here, since the woman had a parent-child relationship with the child, she did have standing to request custody. The court noted that the father did not enjoy the paramount position of a parent because he failed to take care of the child adequately and put the child with his parents, who could not care for her properly. It is important to note that in all child custody determinations, the main focus is on what is in the best interest of the child.

A key takeaway from this case is that leaving a child in the custody of another person, in certain cases, might be considered an action inconsistent with the constitutionally protected status of a parent.

Child custody determinations may affect the rest of your child’s life, so it imperative to consider the best interest of your child. At the Woodruff Family Law Group, our seasoned North Carolina child custody attorneys will thoroughly assess the facts and inform you of your legal rights and options. For more information, do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 336-272-9122.

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