Maryland Court of Appeals acknowledges rights of ‘de facto’ parents

The Maryland Court of Appeals has acknowledged the custody and visitation rights of “de facto” parents who lack status as legal or biological parents.

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently upheld a woman’s right to seek custody of the child that she helped raise with her ex-spouse, even though the woman is not considered a legal or biological parent of the child. This decision reverses rulings from lower courts, which held that the woman lacked legal standing to pursue custody and visitation. By recognizing the rights of “de facto” parents, this ruling could offer significant benefits for other people who face similar situations in Maryland.

Case overview

As summarized in the opinion from the Maryland Court of Appeals, the woman and her ex-spouse agreed prior to their marriage to have a child through artificial insemination. The woman’s ex-spouse was listed on the child’s birth certificate as the mother, while no one was named as the father. The women were married a few months after their son was born, but they separated about a year later. For a short time, the woman enjoyed custody and visitation with their son. However, her ex-spouse eventually denied her access to the child.

The ex-spouse argued that the woman was a third party who lacked parental standing. The woman asserted that she met the criteria to qualify as the child’s father, based on her role as a parent and in the relationship. However, a circuit court concluded that the woman was a third party and would only have a right to seek custody in exceptional circumstances. Specifically, the woman would have to show that terminating the parent-child relationship would adversely affect the child or that her ex-wife was unfit as a parent.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, however, recently held that “de facto” parenthood provides grounds for a person to seek custody without proving the exceptional circumstances standard is met. The woman’s case will now be remanded to a circuit court, where her status as a de facto parent will be considered during the custody determination.

Potential impacts

This finding could have significant impacts on people in Maryland who act as parents yet lack legal parental status or a biological relationship to the child in question. The recognition of the rights of de facto parents could improve outcomes for people who are seeking custody after a same-sex relationship ends, as The Baltimore Sun notes. It also could benefit stepparents who lack legal parental status. The ruling even might open the door for biological or legal parents to pursue child support from people who have the rights and responsibilities of de facto parents.

Navigating unusual custody issues

Despite the potential benefits of this ruling, securing a satisfactory child custody and visitation arrangement may still prove challenging for de facto parents. Therefore, these individuals may benefit from seeking the assistance of an attorney during any disputes about child custody and visitation. An attorney may be able to help a person demonstrate his or her parental role and show the importance of maintaining an ongoing relationship with the child.

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