What is a Psychological Parent?

Posted August 20th, 2016.

Categories: Child Custody, Family Law.

psychological parent law offices of mark s guralnick

Is it possible for an adult who has no biological connection to a child to be granted custody? The answer is yes – if the adult is deemed a “psychological parent” of the child.

A psychological parent can come into a child’s life in many ways, such as, for example, when a biological mother gives birth to a child, then resides with a same-sex domestic partner. If the two women raise the child together and then later split up, the partner who claims to be the psychological parent can sue for custody or parenting time.

For a third party to become a psychological parent to the child of a fit and involved legal parent, the legal parent must consent to and foster the relationship between the third party and the child; the third party must have lived with the child; the third party must perform parental functions for the child to a significant degree, and, most importantly, a parent-child bond must be forged.

As one might imagine, the idea of a psychological parent can be a difficult one for the legal (biological parent) to embrace. After a romantic relationship has dissolved, the legal parent is often reluctant to have the “other parent” in her life or the child’s life. But a divorce or breakup between the two parents is not a dissolution of the relationship between the non-biological parent and the child. A psychological parent-child relationship that is voluntarily created by the legally recognized parent may not be unilaterally terminated after the relationship between the adults ends.

Moreover, the fact that the psychological parent had nothing to do with the legal parent’s decision to have a child does not stop a judge from ruling that she thereafter became the child’s psychological parent.

Money also little to do with how a court will rule in such cases. A judge will generally look at the overall nature, quality, and extent of the nurturing-type functions undertaken by the psychological parent and the response of the child.

Achieving psychological parent status is a significant step for any non-biological party in New Jersey who seeks to have custody or parenting time. Under the precedent established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in its 2000 decision in the case of V.C. v. M.J.B., a psychological parent has the exact same rights to custody and visitation as any natural parent. Indeed, once a party has been determined to be a psychological parent to a child, he or she stands “in parity” with the legal parent, and custody and visitation issues between them are to be determined on a best interest standard based on the statutory factors.

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