Legal Blog

Major Decision on Custody and Visitation Issued by Maryland Court of Appeals

shutterstock_334181882On July 7, 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an important decision changing family law as it pertains to non-parents seeking custody or visitation of children. The Court said that it was correcting a prior law that was clearly wrong and has been undermined by the passage of time, and permitted a de facto parent to petition for custody or visitation without having to meet a very high burden. In addition, the decision reserves a biological or adoptive parents’ “fundamental right to direct and govern the care, custody and control of their children.”

 

A “de facto parent” is a term used to describe a person who has a parent-like relationship with a child who is not that person’s biological or adoptive child. A de facto parent can include a step-parent, a close family member, or same-sex partner who is raising a child without being a biologically related or adoptive parent. Prior to today’s decision, de facto parent status was not recognized in Maryland.  Since the status was not recognized, the law required that the person claiming to be a de facto parent prove that the biological or adoptive parent is “unfit” or that “exceptional circumstances” existed before a trial court could determine if custody or visitation with the de facto parent was in the best interests of the child.  It was an extremely difficult burden to meet and many people who assumed a parental role in a child’s life, without the biological or legal connection, were not able to have custody or visitation.

 

The new decision recognizes de facto parenthood as a legal status and it eliminates the need for a de facto parent to prove “unfitness” or “exceptional circumstances”. Rather, if a party can meet a 4-part test to prove they are a de facto parent, then the Court will decide custody on a best interest of the child. In other words, a de facto parent would have the standing in a custody case as a biological or adoptive parent.

 

In order for a third-party to be recognized as a de facto parent, they must prove:

 

(1) that the biological or adoptive parent consented to and fostered, a parent-like relationship between the party and the child;

 

(2) that the party and the child lived together in the same household;

 

(3) that the third party assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributing towards the child’s support, without an expectation of financial compensation; and

 

(4)  that the third party has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established a bonded, dependent parental relationship with the child.

 

It is important to note that the de facto parent status cannot be achieved without the biological or adoptive parent’s knowing participation. This does not mean that family friends, nannies, or neighbors can claim to be a de facto parent and try to get visitation with a child. Rather, this ruling is meant to recognize individuals who are invited into a child’s life by a biological or adoptive parent and take on a parent-like role, and prevent them from being unilaterally cut out of the child’s life.

 

If you have any questions about this decision, or family law, please contact Laurie Wasserman, Esq. at 410.209.6446 or lwasserman@offitkurman.com.

 

ABOUT LAURIE WASSERMAN

Laurie Wasserman_loreslwasserman@offitkurman.com |  410.209.6446.

Laurie M. Wasserman, a principal at Offit Kurman in the Family Law practice area, represents individuals in all aspects of Maryland divorce and family law. She is committed to guiding her clients through the process in the most beneficial and least stressful way. She helps clients identify the issues that are important to them and advises them on creative strategies to achieve these goals. She brings experience, energy, and empathy to all of her cases, and provides her clients with the attention they deserve.

 

 

ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN

Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 120 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. Our eight offices serve individual and corporate clients in the Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Northern Virginia markets, as well as the Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City metropolitan areas. At Offit Kurman, we are our clients’ most trusted legal advisors, professionals who help maximize and protect business value and personal wealth. In every interaction, we consistently maintain our clients’ confidence by remaining focused on furthering their objectives and achieving their goals in an efficient manner. Trust, knowledge, confidence—in a partner, that’s perfect.

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