Stepparents in New Jersey who have bonded with a child but who do not have blood ties or who have not gone through adoption process may still have the ability to seek certain rights regarding the child in family court. In a recent case, a stepmother who helped raise an 18-month-old boy with her domestic partner, the boy’s biological mother, sought child custody and visitation rights. A state appellate court recognized the woman as a psychological parent and gave her visitation rights despite the boy’s biological mother not wanting to allow her former partner to see her son after the relationship ended.
According to the ruling, a psychological parent is guardian who forms a parent-child bond with a child after they spend a considerable amount of time together. This category can be used to offer rights to an individual even if the child has two legal parents. In this case, the boy also had an adopted mother from an earlier relationship. The stepmother originally lost her case seeking custodial rights in a trial court, but the appeals court overruled the previous decision to uphold the biological mother’s request to keep the stepmother away from the boy.
The two women never married but entered into a domestic partnership before New Jersey legalized same-sex marriages. The stepmother claimed to have bonded with her stepson, and the appellate court thought it was in the boy’s best interest for the individuals to maintain contact. The National Center for Lesbian Rights issued a press release about the case in which the group’s family law director was quoted as applauding the state for recognizing that parental type relationships with children need to be protected regardless of who the people are who are filling those roles.
Stepparents and other parental figures who do not yet have a recognized legal status as a parent or guardian might benefit from discussing their options with an attorney. Whether considering starting a formal adoption process or fighting for child custody when a relationship ends, an attorney could assist with making an argument for why it would be in the best interest of the child to award parental rights to a client.
Source: Advocate, “Lesbian Stepmom Wins Custody Rights as ‘Psychological Parent’“, Mitch Kellaway, August 11, 2014