The breakdown of a relationship between two parents is often very difficult on everyone. That’s true whether you’re a famous celebrity or an “ordinary” person. It’s also true whether or not you are biologically related to your child. However, if you are in a situation (like many LGBT+ couples) where one of you is a biological parent and one is not, that fact can complicate things if a custody dispute arises after your separation. If you find yourself in a custody disagreement, then you know that nothing may be more important to you than your relationship with your child. Be sure you are protecting that relationship to the maximum extent by securing legal representation from a skilled Maryland child custody attorney.
As an example of how difficult breakups can be for families with children, there’s the case of two of the stars of Bravo’s Flipping Out series. Although the two men never married, they had been together for 10 years and shared a three-year-old daughter when they separated in 2019.
According to a Yahoo! Entertainment report, although the daughter was the biological offspring of one partner and no biological relationship to the other, both fathers would have legal parental rights. “According California State Law, both [fathers] have equal parental rights to [the child], regardless of biology, because both of their names are listed” as parents on the daughter’s birth certificate.
That, of course, is the state of the law in California. In other states, being the non-biological parent can place you at a distinct disadvantage. In Florida, for example, the law there gives the biological parent a strong “right to privacy,” which potentially can include the right to end contact with the non-biological parent after a separation.
So, how will a Maryland court handle my family’s custody case?
Fortunately for LGBT+ parents here in Maryland, the law is less problematic than that of Florida. A few years ago, the courts in this state were faced with a circumstance similar to the Flipping Out family. In that Maryland case, the parents included a non-biological parent and a biological one. The non-biological parent, M.C., was a transgender man who, at that time, was pre-transition and living in a lesbian relationship with the biological mother of the child, H.C.
The couple married in D.C. roughly six months after the child’s birth. A year after they married, they separated. Ten months after that, the biological mother cut off visits between M.C. and the child. M.C. sued and, in 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided to adopt the legal rule from another state (Wisconsin) and establish the concept of de facto parenthood. That new rule said that, in certain circumstances, people may be entitled to legal recognition as parents even if they are neither a biological nor an adoptive parent of the child. In Maryland, a de facto parent has the same rights to seek visitation and/or custody as a biological or adoptive parent.
This standard applies to more than just non-biological parents in same-sex relationships like M.C. and H.C.’s. This could also include others such as stepparents or grandparents.
The key is proving all of the factors required by Maryland law to establish de facto parenthood. As this blog noted a year and a half ago, most anyone can be a de facto parent in Maryland if they can prove four things. Those four things are: (1) that the legal parent allowed and facilitated the de facto parent’s establishment of a “parent-like relationship with the child,” (2) that the de facto parent and the child lived together under the same roof, (3) that the de facto parent was significantly involved in ensuring the child’s care, education and development, including financially, and (4) the relationship existed “for a length of time sufficient to” allow for the creation of a “bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.”
So, if you are raising a child that is not your biological offspring and the child’s biological parent leaves you and cuts off your contact with the child, do not think that your lack of a biological relationship means you have no rights, because you do. To protect those rights and that most precious relationship with your child, talk to skilled Maryland child custody attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has spent many years helping parents, stepparents, grandparents and others achieve positive results in custody disputes. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.