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What are 'de facto' parents?

Anybody who has ever adopted a child can probably tell you that parenthood is a bond that transcends blood relationships.

Sometimes it also transcends legal relationships as well. Someone without any biological or legal ties to a child may have played such an important role in that child's development and upbringing that he or she can only be considered a "de facto" parent.

A de facto parent has, for all intents and purposes, stepped up and raised the child in question as if he or she was actually related.

While the term has become broadly known because of its use in cases where same-sex parents have split and the biological or adoptive parent has sought to prevent the nonbiological or nonadoptive parent from seeking custody and visitation, there are times when de facto parent situations come into play with heterosexual couples as well. A stepfather or stepmother, for example, may have been present since a child's birth and behaved as if he or she was that child's parent. This can also have implications where the biological parent has died and the biological relatives want custody -- even though the child has someone in his or her life that he or she considers to be a living parent.

It's important to understand that every court and judge treats the situation a little differently -- some are less flexible about the situation than others. However, if you can get the court to consider whether or not to grant you the status of a de facto parent, regardless of the situation, these are the things that the court will likely examine:

  • How long you have been present in the child's life (the longer the better)
  • Whether or not the child views you as his or her mother or father
  • Any paperwork that showed the intent of the biological or adoptive parent to treat you as the child's other parent (for example, school registration forms and doctor's records that list you as a parent)
  • Legal documents that were drafted with the intention of giving you custody if the biological or adoptive parent died or became incapacitated

While de facto parenthood isn't easy to establish, it can be done -- and it can preserve your relationship with your child for the future. An attorney can provide more assistance and help you assert your parental rights in a child custody case.

Source: FindLaw, "Legal Issues for Gay and Lesbian Adoption," accessed Aug. 23, 2017

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