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Can You Get Custody of a Sibling?

Much like Santa Claus on Christmas day, the law has always been in an unconditional love affair with kids. This explains why one common thread runs through all cases involving child custody: the child’s best interest weighs more and prevails over any parent’s. 

Typically, a parent — a guardian under the law — can make crucial decisions regarding the child in their lawful custody, like where the child will reside, the child’s religion, the child’s education, decisions involving the child’s health, etc.

Unless the law terminates their rights, the biological parents (with their names appearing on the child’s birth certificate) are granted these rights naturally. But what happens when both parents are dead or incapable of providing care? The courts are always careful not to grant custody to individuals who are not biological parents. 

Before exploring external options, the law can authorize the legal guardianship of an adult sibling to provide care provided the parents are unfit, incapable, or deceased. 

Cases of unfit parents include where the parent lives a lifestyle that is not conducive to the child’s nurturing, cases of abuse (whether psychologically, emotionally, mentally, or physically), child abandonment, or a willing failure to provide for the child.

Where the parents are dead, and they died without a will vesting custodial rights on any trusted individual, a third party is welcome to petition the court to gain custody. This legally recognized third party may be uncles, aunts, grandparents, family friends, and — you guessed — siblings. 

Can I Get Custody of My Sister or Brother? 

Getting custody of siblings is possible, provided you can prove to the court that guardianship of your sibling under such circumstances would be necessary and in their best interests. 

In states like California, there are many cases where the court orders the guardians to care for a child, especially where such a child’s parent is unfit or incapable. In the case of unfit parenting, state law requires the parents of the child to admit they are unfit to care for the child. There are several instances where parents can declare themselves unfit to care for their children. These instances include incarceration, death, illness, etc.

Also read:How to Win Temporary Custody of Your Child

When parents of minor children separate or file for divorce, the court will usually hold a temporary child custody hearing to determin...

Although the laws vary across states, the courts strive to achieve a single objective — to protect the child’s best interest. Are you looking for how to get legal guardianship of a sibling?

Do Siblings Count as Legal Guardians? 

Various laws of different states have indicated that third parties (including siblings) have the right to petition for guardianship over children. Though the courts are always circumspect about awarding custody to anyone other than the biological parents, third parties (siblings) can be recognized as legal guardians in extreme situations. Other third parties may include:

  • Uncles;
  • Aunts;
  • Grandparents; and
  • Family friends.

Finally, the siblings must also meet the age requirements, which differ across states.

How to Get Custody of Your Sibling?

To secure guardianship of a sibling, you must prove to the court that your custody of your sibling will be in their best interest. 

Siblings’ best interest? 

Although it’s most preferred under the law that a child keeps relationships with both parents, it is entirely possible, especially once they separate, have died, or are unfit. 

When determining custodial arrangements, judges are usually heavy on the requirement that any guardianship arrangement should be one that will meet the ultimate goal of “fostering the child’s happiness, and encouraging the child’s happiness, mental health, and emotional development.”

The judges also specifically consider a few other issues when trying to gauge what situation will be in the child’s best interest, namely:

  • Stability of the home; 
  • Physical, mental, and psychological health of either the parents or you (the proposed guardian); or
  • Any pattern of sometimes violence or substance use.
Do you need legal assistance?Find the right lawyer in your area.

What Is the Process for Obtaining Custody of a Child? 

To gain child custody of your sibling, the courts must examine whether there is a true need that warrants your appeal for custody in your case.  

Once the court finds it to be a matter of exigency, and consequently, necessary, the court then requests the child’s parents to legally relinquish legal custody of the legally dependent child so you may gain custody of your sibling. 

However, a court order may not be entirely necessary because parents can willingly hand over custody when they are fully aware that the child might be better off in another home or under the supervision of a (sibling) guardian. 

Usually, the older sibling requesting custody must go to a court that has jurisdictional powers over the area the child resides in. The sibling (or an attorney) must file a petition to request to be appointed as the guardian of their other sibling. 

At this point, you’re better off using the help of a professional family law attorney, who would assist in filing the forms and navigating all the paperwork involved. Custody arrangements are a very sensitive case before the law, so you don’t want to take any chances. 

When petitioning to gain custody of siblings, you should bear in mind that once such a sibling is involved in a separate custody battle or if there is an already existing court order regarding who gets custody over the sibling, then you may have to petition the same court to avoid a conflict of orders from two different courts. 

The court may hold a hearing to ensure your home’s suitability and safety or order an investigator to interview you and your sibling. The investigator may also visit your home where the child resides. Once you meet all the requirements, you may be awarded custody. 

The court may probe further — in cases where such a child can express themselves — to know their individual preferences. When there are multiple children, showing that all the children are closely knit so the family should stay united will go a long way in demonstrating that you have their best interests, which brings you closer to success.

How old do you have to be to take custody of a sibling?

Can you get custody of your siblings at 18? Yes. You must be an adult (over 18) or an emancipated minor, in which case you must assume most adult responsibilities before you reach 18. 

However, the age of adulthood differs in each state. So, flip through the pages of your state’s laws or hire a family law attorney who can offer reliable advice. 

Navigating the legal systems can be a tad tricky, which is why you need one. For instance, in Alabama, adulthood is 19, while most conditions stipulate 18 years as the age of adulthood. 

Siblings guardian

Can a sibling be a guardian? Can a sibling get custody of another sibling? Well, to gain custodial rights, you must petition the court. The sibling must be 18 or older, although the age requirements and filing procedures for guardianship (and the paperwork) may vary across jurisdictions. 

On balance, a family law attorney is one pro you should have in your corner when looking to petition for custody. 

What Else Is There to Consider? 

When trying to answer the question, “can a sibling be a legal guardian?” you must understand that custody laws vary from state to state. 

So, if your sibling resides in another state different from those wanting custody of the children, the entire process may be a bit more complex. The process can suffer further setbacks if one of the parents contests such a petition for guardianship. 

Others include:

  • If the younger sibling is disabled; and 
  • If the more youthful sibling owns a significant amount of property.

The court may order that the petitioner informs the siblings’ relatives. Cases like this arise when both parents of the children are dead and give custody to a relative in their wills. In such a case, the courts will determine the facts of the will.

Finally, if the child’s parents are alive and agree to give guardianship to an adult child, the court may give custody to the eldest adult sibling. In cases where one of the parents objects to such control, the child’s best interest will prevail. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do child custody laws differ from state to state?

Yes, regulations affecting custodial ownership of a legally dependent child differ from state to state. Any party interested in claiming ownership of a child, or an older sibling seeking custody of a younger sibling, should familiarize themselves with the laws in the state where the child resides.

What does it mean to file for child custody pro se?

Filing for custodial ownership of a child pro se means you will be representing yourself in court.

Is it advisable to engage the services of family law attorneys?

It is advisable to engage the services of a family law attorney, especially if another party contests the custody of the child and has sought legal representation. 


While getting custody as a sibling can be a little complex, it’s not impossible. The law would rather a legally dependent child remain with the parents, but peculiar circumstances can give rise to the need for siblings to assume guardianship. 

At Lawrina, we have the best crop of family law and custody attorneys to help you enforce the child’s best interest. Need help? An attorney in your corner is your best chance at success. Reach out today!

Article by Sofi Ostymchuk

Sofi Ostymchuk was a Content Lead and Legal Writer at Lawrina. Sofi managed the content on the blog, communicated with contributors, looked for interesting topics, and created articles in cooperation with lawyers and law experts.

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