On July 7, 2016, Maryland’s highest court ruled that de facto parents can be given custody and/or visitation of minor children. (Conover v. Conover). A “de facto” parent isn’t a biological or adoptive parent, but one who has formed a strong bond with a child and claims custody or visitation rights based on that bond. Unlike before, De Facto parents may now contest custody or visitation without having to show that the biological parent is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances. The Court still must decide the best interests of the child, however.
The Conover Court adopted the following Four Part Test to determine whether a person is a de facto parent:
1. The legal/biological parent must have consented to and fostered the formation of a parent-like relationship between the third party/petitioner and the child;
2. The third party/petitioner must have lived with the child in the same household;
3. The third party/petitioner must have assumed the obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributions towards the child’s support without expecting to be paid; and
4. The third party/petitioner must have been in a parental role long enough to have established a bonded, dependent parental relationship with the child.
Although the facts of Conover deal with a same sex couple, this decision may apply to any couple raising a child, whether married or not, and may also apply to grandparents seeking custody or visitation.
Conover reaffirms the primary goal of custody and access determinations in the State of Maryland, which is the best interests of the child, as laid out in Montgomery County Department of Social Services v. Sanders, 38 Md. App. 406 (1978) and Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290 (1986).
By: Josh Bienstock is an associate with Bienstock Law, LLC. Josh joined the firm following his clerkship with Judge Anne K. Albright of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, MD.
Bienstock Law, LLC handles all divorce and custody related matters. Located in Rockville, MD just steps from the courthouse, Bienstock Law, LLC is uniquely situated to help with your legal needs throughout the state of Maryland.