Who can get custody?
Parents have the first right to custody of their child. However, in certain “exceptional circumstances,” if a judge believes that custody with either parent could seriously harm the child, the judge may award custody to a non-parent, including a state agency.1
In addition, when the judge determines that there has been domestic violence, the judge can give residential responsibility to a suitable third person if the judge believes that it is necessary to protect the welfare of the child. The judge must believe that the third person would not allow the child to have contact with a violent parent except as is permitted by the court order. If the judge awards residential responsibility to a third person, priority is given to the child’s nearest suitable adult relative.2
1 See, for example, Hamers v. Guttormson, 2000 ND 93, 610 N.W.2d 758
2 N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1)(j)