Legal Information: District of Columbia

Custody

Updated: 
December 27, 2016

Can a grandparent or other non-parent file for custody?

It depends.  A non-parent (referred to by the court as a “third party”) can file for custody or file to “intervene” in an existing custody proceeding if the parent who is/has been the primary caretaker of the child within the past 3 years consents to the third party being able to request custody or if one of the following conditions are met:

  1. The third party is living with the child and there is an “exceptional circumstance” that makes giving custody to the third party necessary to prevent harm to the child; or
  2. The third party has:
    • lived in the same household as the child for at least 4 of the 6 months immediately before s/he filed the complaint or motion for custody; or, if the child is under the age of 6 months, for at least half of the child's life; and
    • primarily assumed the duties and obligations for which a parent is legally responsible, including providing the child with food, clothing, shelter, education, financial support, and other care to meet the child's needs.1

(Note: A third party who is employed by the child’s parent to provide child care duties cannot file for custody even if s/he meets any of the above circumstances.)2

Another way that a non-parent can file for custody or file to “intervene” in a custody proceeding is if the person can prove with clear and convincing evidence that s/he is a “de facto parent.”3  A “de facto parent” is someone who has taken on full and permanent responsibilities as the child's parent and, with the biological parents’ agreement, holds himself/herself out as the child’s parent.4  If you think this may apply to you, please read the legal definition of “de facto parent” on our Statutes page to see the requirements for proving that you are the de facto parent.

Remember, as a non-parent, even though you may have the right to file for custody based on one of the circumstances discussed above, a judge may or may not grant you custody.  A judge will look at many factors to try to decide if giving you custody is in the child’s best interest.  You can read those factors on our Statutes page here.

1 D.C. Code § 16-831.02(a)(1)
2 D.C. Code § 16-831.02(a)(2)
3 D.C. Code § 16-831.03
4 D.C. Code § 16-831.01