When a couple chooses to baptize their child into the church, they select godparents who promise to help raise the child in the faith. Some people are under the impression that those who are named godparents automatically get custody if something happens to the child's parents. However, from a legal standpoint, godparents have no more rights than any other friend or family member.
If a child's mother dies, the father usually obtains the complete and sole rights to the child, unless the child's godparents petition the court for rights.
If a mother dies or is incapacitated, the rights of the child's father outweigh the rights of anyone else, including the godparents. The father will obtain complete and sole rights to the child. If, however, the mother and father were separated or divorced and the godparents played a large role in the child's life, such as watching the child while the mother worked, or lived with the child, the godparents may be able to secure visitation rights if the father denies them access. These laws vary by state and would have to be decided in court.
Godparents Legal Rights
Some parents assume that when they name a person as a godparent, that person receives custody of the child if something happens to the parents. However, this is not the case. If you want your child's godparents to also be your child's legal guardian if something happens to you, you must state this in your will. Without naming the godparents as guardians in your will, they will need to fight for rights to your child, just as any other family member would.
Filing for Custody
If something happens to both parents and no guardian is named in a will, the child becomes a ward of the state until custody is determined. In some cases, the child may be placed with a family member temporarily. Any family member or close friend, including godparents, can file for custody of the child. The court looks at the relationship between the child and the godparents and makes a decision based on the best interest of the child. In most cases, this involves leaving the child with a family member.
When parents name godparents for their children, they do not always choose the same sets of godparents for each child. In cases where multiple children are involved, the court does not like to separate the children. The children are already dealing with the loss of one or both of their parents and should not be subjected to the emotional trauma of losing each other as well. If you are capable of caring for all the children, you can request that the judge place all of the children with you.
If you are not in a position to take on the custody of your godchild, you can also petition the court for third-party visitation. Similar to the process in which you could file for visitation if the father was withholding the child, you may also be able to obtain visitation rights if someone else has custody. You will need to prove that you have been an important part of the child's life and that your relationship benefits the child. This process is especially important if the people with whom the child is placed are not religious and you want to honor the mother's wishes and remain responsible for the child's faith.