As anyone with children knows, the relationships you have with your children are about much more than just shared DNA. Just because a child you’re raising is not “yours” in the biological sense does not diminish the bond you share, the responsibility you feel for her well-being or the value that your care provides to her. Recognizing that, the law in Maryland allows people who are not biological parents to go to court and, if they have the right evidence, demonstrate that they are something that the law calls a “de facto” parent, which gives them an equal footing with that child’s other legal parents. If you are raising a child that is not biologically yours, you need the right Maryland family law attorney when it comes time to make those kinds of “de facto parent” arguments and protect your relationship in a court of law.
Some of Maryland’s earliest cases establishing de facto parenthood related to same-sex couples with children, especially those who were not married and where only one parent had a biological tie to the child. As the law has recognized, however, de facto parenthood extends to more than just families involving gay or lesbian parents.
Take, for example, this case from Prince George’s County. In the case, the two children were the biological offspring of D.D., the father, and E.N., the mother. The parents lived together until the father was imprisoned for drug crimes.
In 2013, after leaving prison, the father began a relationship with T.R., and the two moved in together. In 2015, when the children were 10 and 8, they moved from the mother’s home to the home of the father and T.R. The mother stated that she “needed a break ‘to get herself right.’” Over the next two years, the mother saw the children exactly once, when she took them out to dinner with their grandparents.
In 2017, the father was busted again, this time for drugs and guns. This resulted in a new prison sentence scheduled to last until the summer of 2024. T.R. continued raising D.D.’s two children by herself.
In early 2018, T.R. filed a court action seeking legal custody of the children. She asserted that she was the de facto parent of the two children as they had lived exclusively with her for the preceding three years and had experienced minimal contact with the mother during that time.
The four things you need to prove you’re a de facto parent
This was sufficient proof to establish a case of de facto parenthood, according to the courts. The law in Maryland requires four elements for de facto parenthood. They are that: (1) the legal parent consented to, and fostered, the de facto parent’s parent-like relationship with the children, (2) the de facto parent and the children lived together in the same household, (3) the de facto parent “assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development,” and (4) the de facto parent has been “in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.”
In T.R.’s case, the mother asserted that the first factor wasn’t present because she had neither consented to, nor fostered, T.R.’s parent-like relationship with the children and the law requires consent from both legal parents.
Only one parent needs to approve and foster a de facto parent’s relationship
The Court of Special Appeals rejected that argument, making it clear that there can be a legally valid de facto parent relationship even if there is only one biological parent consenting to, and fostering, the relationship.
As a result, a person who achieves de facto parenthood status, even when that status is obtained based on the conduct of just one legal parent, achieves a legal parenthood status equal to the other parents. That means that the de facto parent has a “fundamental Constitutional right” regarding the care and control of the children that is “co-equal” with the rights of the other parents.
Whatever biological relationship you have with the children you’re raising, you undeniably have a powerful bond that goes beyond mere DNA. When it comes time to protect that relationship in court, count on the experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC for the effective representation your cases deserves. To learn more about how we can assist you with a child custody or other matter, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.