The Conover v. Conover case’s potential impact on de facto parent laws

De facto parents previously involved in a marriage may be viewed as legal parents in Maryland following a recent court ruling.

A de facto parent is a parent who takes care of a child's basic needs on a day-to-day basis, but is not related to the child legally or biologically. Although de facto parents are not recognized as having rights to a child in Maryland, states the Maryland Courts, a recent ruling in the case Conover v. Conover may change how the courts view these types of parents.

A second ruling

The ruling, which came from the Court of Appeals for the state of Maryland, acknowledged that a nonbiological and legal parent could be declared a de facto parent. The court decided that "a legal parent does not have a right to voluntarily cultivate their child's parental-type relationship with a third party and then seek to extinguish it." This is a complete reversal from the court's previous finding that the third party in the case could not be recognized as a de facto parent and therefore, did not have claims for visitation or custody of the child.

How the case developed

In July of 2013, the Circuit Court decided that since the nonbiological and biological parents in this case were not married when the child was born, even though same-sex marriage was legal at the time, the nonbiological parent could not be considered the father and therefore did not have any rights to custody or visitation.

The biological parent and the nonbiological parent were together for eight years before their son was born, but on the birth certificate of the child, only the biological parent was listed and the nonbiological parent was not recorded as the father. This occurred even though the nonbiological parent was encouraged to take on the role of a father. Once the biological parent filed for divorce, the nonbiological parent continued to spend time with his son and had access to him even when the couple was legally separated.

How this ruling might affect de facto parents

The Conover v. Conover case will now return to the Circuit Court. During proceedings, the nonbiological parent, as a legally recognized de facto parent, will seek the right to visit his son. As a result of the Court of Appeal's prior ruling, de facto parents involved in the divorce process may now be granted the right to custody or visitation by the court.

However, divorcing parents in Maryland might still worry about whether their de facto relationship with their children will be upheld in a court of law so they can continue to be an influence in their children's lives. Parents who have similar concerns should meet with an attorney to discuss their legal options.