A New Jersey court has used the doctrine of a “psychological parent” to rule that a woman who co-parented a child in a same-sex relationship in which the two were domestic partners but not legally married should have visitation rights. According to the ruling of the appeals court, stepparents who have raised children from a young age and have formed a bond with them should be able to seek custody or visitation.
In this case, the woman had begun a committed relationship with the biological mother of the child when the child was 18 months old. She spent several years raising the child, and when the couple split, the biological mother did not wish to allow her continued contact with the child. Although the stepmother lost the initial court filing, the appeals court ruled in her favor. Despite the child already having a biological mother and an adoptive mother from a previous relationship, the ruling stated that a parent-child bond could still be formed with a stepparent and that to disrupt it could be psychologically damaging.
Stepparents, grandparents and other relatives may not realize that they can seek visitation or child custody when the end of a relationship also means the end of access to a child. While the initial ruling indicates that there is not yet a single standard in place nationally regarding child custody rights, New Jersey stepparents can now look to this case as support for their own custody and visitation claims.
This means that even if a child has two biological and legal parents, a stepfather who co-parented a child for 10 years might successfully seek custody or visitation rights. Individuals in a similar situation may wish to consult an attorney to work out an effective strategy.
Source: Advocate, “Lesbian Stepmom Wins Custody Rights as ‘Psychological Parent’“, Mitch Kellaway, August 11, 2014