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What is a De Facto Parent?

toddler learning math and counting with her father

Families come in all shapes and sizes. For many people in the U.S., an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or even a family friend was more of a parent than their actual parents. The law in New Jersey and elsewhere gives biological or legal parents extensive protections, but what about the people who step into the role of parent without going so far as to adopt? Are they without any legal rights? Can their relationship with their de facto child be severed, leaving them with no recourse? Thankfully, New Jersey law recognizes that there are circumstances under which someone other than the legal parent may have a claim for custody or visitation. Below we discuss how the de facto parent doctrine operates in New Jersey. If you have questions about New Jersey child custody, or if you are dealing with other family law issues, call a compassionate New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney for help.

De Facto/Psychological Parents in New Jersey

New Jersey recognizes a doctrine known as the “psychological parent” doctrine, also called the de facto parent doctrine or the functional parent doctrine. Under New Jersey law, a person who can establish that they were the “de facto” or “psychological” parent of a child can request parenting time as if they were a legal parent.

Establishing a de facto parenting relationship is challenging, however. The law presumes that the legal parents of a child have full control over their child’s life, within certain legal limits, which includes deciding who is allowed to spend time with their child. With the help of a seasoned child custody attorney, however, you may be able to prove to the court that you deserve at least some parental rights.

Proving You Are a De Facto Parent

In order to obtain parenting time rights under the de facto parenting doctrine in New Jersey, the requesting party must prove each one of four elements. A party who establishes all four elements will be treated similarly to a legal parent in a custody dispute, meaning that the court will decide custody and visitation by looking at the best interests of the child.

The four factors to establish de facto or psychological parentage in New Jersey include:

  • The biological or adoptive parent of the child in question consented to and promoted the parent-child-like relationship between the putative de facto parent and the child. A legal parent cannot permit and foster a parent-child relationship and then turn around and summarily sever that relationship.
  • The putative de facto parent lived in the same household as the child for a significant time. The courts have not set a specific minimum amount of time, but it must be substantial.
  • The putative de facto parent assumed the obligations of parenthood. That means they took on significant responsibility with regard to the child’s care, education, and development, such as by contributing financial support to the child’s care without expectation of repayment.
  • The putative de facto parent must have served in the parental role long enough to establish a parental bond and a dependent relationship with the child. Many factors play into whether there’s a sufficiently bonded and dependent relationship, including the relationship between the de facto parent and child, the age of the child, the nature of the parental duties assumed, and others. An expert witness may be called upon to evaluate the parties and assess whether a parental bond exists.

Call Our Seasoned New Jersey Child Custody and Divorce Law Firm Today for Advice and Assistance

If you’re engaged in a child custody dispute, considering divorce, or dealing with other New Jersey family law issues, contact the experienced and effective Union family law attorney John B. D’Alessandro for a consultation.

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