Child custody in California is not just limited to parents of a child or an unrelated caregiver in their absence. Federal law also allows the court to consider giving custody to relative over an unrelated caregiver when it determines placement of the child. The court, however, may only place a child with a relative if that person meets the standards set by law. For instance, the relative is required to be an adult and must meet the child protection standards prescribed by law.
When determining child custody and placement of the child with a relative, the court -- or an appropriate authority -- is required to consider a string of factors. First and foremost the court must, in all cases, consider the best interests of a child. This includes taking into consideration the child's emotional, psychological, medical, educational, physical needs plus other requirements.
Legal authorities must also take into account the wishes of the child's parents, other relatives and the child -- depending on individual circumstances in the case including the age of the child. The court may also consider placing siblings or half siblings of the child with the same relative, if it is helpful to the child. A relative must also meet the same respectable character standards required of any child guardian.
If other individuals will be residing in the same home as the child, the court must consider if there are any individuals with criminal records and suitability of any resident before placing the child. The nature and duration of the child's relationship with the relative are also considered. After a review of the all facts and an assessment of risk factors, the court or an appropriate authority may place the child with the relative provided that it is satisfied that the child will be safe and will have a healthy and wholesome life with that relative.
Source: ChildWelfare.gov, "Placement of Children With Relatives," Accessed on Nov. 19, 2014