What Does ‘De Facto’ Parenthood in Maryland Mean and What Does it Take to Prove that You Qualify as a ‘De Facto’ Parent?

In the weeks before each Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the greeting card aisles of stores are filled with cards for moms and dads. They also often have spaces for cards addressed to those who are “like a mother” or “like a father” to the sender. These cards acknowledge that extremely close, family-like bonds can often extend beyond just biological kinships. Here in Maryland, the law has achieved this realization, too. Maryland law now recognizes those whose relationships essentially mirror those of a parent, making the person a “de facto” parent.

What’s more, and what the courts reminded everyone recently, is that de facto parenthood in Maryland, while often serving as a vital aid to gay and lesbian people raising children, is not limited to individuals whose ties to a child involve a same-sex relationship with the parent. In Maryland, this type of parenthood is much broader. So, whether you’re a grandparent raising a grandchild, a heterosexual step-parent, a same-sex partner of a biological parent – or you have some other relationship with the child – if you meet the law’s standards, you can qualify and be entitled to custody and/or visitation. Certainly, if you find yourself in this type of dispute, be sure that you have retained knowledgeable Maryland family law counsel to handle your case.

The most recent example of this from the courts was from a Montgomery County case. The person seeking “de facto” parent status was a boy’s stepmother. The stepmother and the boy’s father had raised the child, essentially full-time, from the time he was three until age nine (when the father and stepmother separated). The stepmother did all the things a legal parent might do: transporting him to school and to extracurricular activities, taking him to the doctor and to play dates, packing his lunches, attending parent-teacher conferences and so forth.

After the father and stepmother separated, the pair agreed to share custody. Eventually, the cooperation broke down and the two ended up in court, with the stepmother seeking de facto parent status and visitation with the boy.

The trial judge ruled in favor of the stepmother. The father appealed and, in that appeal, he argued that the 2016 case that created de facto parenthood status in Maryland, Conover v. Conover, only applied to same-sex married couples. The appeals court explicitly stated that this was incorrect. While the father was correct that the couple involved in the Conover case was a married lesbian couple, “nothing in the principles underlying the Conover decision or de facto parenthood” generally established a limitation of de facto parenthood that would apply only to same-sex marriage situations.

That means that anyone can qualify as a de facto parent if that person can prove the existence of four things. They 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.”

Show each of these things persuasively to the court, and you meet Maryland’s test for de facto parenthood, regardless of your legal relationship to the child’s biological parent. For skillful and knowledgeable legal representation in your family law case, contact experienced Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi. Our office has been helping our clients to work toward productive outcomes in their divorce, child custody and visitation cases for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

A New Court of Appeals Ruling Clarifies When Grandparents and Other Third Parties Can Seek Custody in Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 12, 2017

Maryland’s Highest Court Recognizes ‘De Facto Parent’ Status, Allows Woman’s Ex-Wife to Seek Visitation, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 29, 2016


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