In 2016, Maryland began recognizing de facto parents by giving them legal standing in custody and visitation decisions. A de facto (“in fact”) parent is a person who plays a significant, parent-like role in a child’s life. A de facto parent has taken on parenting responsibilities for the child and has bonded with the child, and the child depends on his or her relationship with that person. As long as the de facto parent has an intact relationship with the child’s biological or adopted parent or parents, his or her place in the child’s life is secure. However, when the spouses divorce, the de facto parent might feel as if he or she is on shaky ground when it comes to custody and parenting time issues. This also applies to grandparents and other domestic partners as well.
By acknowledging the validity of a de facto parent’s role in the life of the child, Maryland now gives the de facto parent equal footing. De facto parents can share the same rights and responsibilities as biological, legal parents to make decisions about the care, custody, and best interests of the child. They no longer have to prove there are exceptional circumstances, or that the other parent is unfit.
The court decides custody and visitation based on the best interests of the child, regardless of whether you are a biological parent, an adoptive parent, or a de facto parent. If you and your co-parent create a parenting plan that addresses these issues, the courts will likely go along with it. If you cannot create a parenting plan together, then the courts will make the determination for you.
What if there are exceptional circumstances?
If there are exceptional circumstances involved, or if the legal parent could be deemed unfit, Maryland courts may consider the factors listed in McDermott v. Dougherty, 385 Md. 320 (2005) in their determination:
- The length of time the child has been away from the biological parent
- The age of the child when care was assumed by the third party
- The possible emotional effect on the child of a change of custody
- The period of time which elapsed before the parent sought to reclaim the child
- The nature and strength of the ties between the child and the third-party custodian
- The intensity and genuineness of the parent’s desire to have the child
- The stability and certainty as to the child’s future in the custody of the parent
Deciding child custody has always been a challenging task. Parents develop deep, strong bonds with their children, and being forced to live apart from them can inspire desperate actions. If you are being denied your rights to parenting time with your children, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney as soon as you can.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, LLC we focus on protecting the best interests of your child. Our Annapolis child custody attorneys are here to represent you and your family in all matters of family law. You can reserve a consultation with a member of our team by calling 410.921.2422 or filling out our contact form.