Bill Singer, Esq.

I’ve recently heard the term “de facto parent” used where a court found someone to be a parent later on in a child’s life. How does this work?

In modern family life, there are many examples where more than two adults can function as a child’s parent. While this has historically happened after divorce and remarriage with a step-parent, the rise of parenting partnerships has also created situations where a child may receive love, care and attention from multiple parenting figures.

Despite the proliferation of instances of multiple adults acting as parents, the law is only starting to get up to speed in recognizing these family situations. Some courts have developed the concept of a “de facto” or “psychological” parent recognizing that a third adult may also be entitled to the rights and responsibilities as a parent.

In Delaware, for example, the legislature passed a “de facto” parent law establishing that a person who meets certain qualifications will be considered a parent. The California legislature is now considering legislation which would recognize an additional adult as a parent under certain conditions.

Generally for an additional adult to be considered a parent, three criteria need to be met:

1)     The relationship between the de facto parent and the child must have been created with the consent and support of the other parent or parents;

2)     The de facto parent must have exercised parental responsibility for the child; and

3)     The de facto parent must have acted in that role for a sufficient amount of time so that a parent-child bond was established.

Once those criteria are met, the de facto parent is legally seen as an equal parent with all of the resulting rights and responsibilities.