In the television show “Modern Family,” one of the families featured is a gay couple with an adopted daughter. Another family consists of a mother, her son, and the boy’s step-father. All of the children in the show are close with their grandfather.
There are many such “modern families” in New Jersey, where, as in the rest of the country, it is increasingly common for children to have close parent-child relationships with adults who are not their legal parents. Third parties who assume the role of legal parents are known as “psychological parents” and are treated as regular parents under the law once their status as “psychological parent” has been confirmed.
The Appellate Division recently decided K.A.F. v. D.L.M., a case which has important implications for psychological parents in New Jersey.
K.A.F. and F.D. were in a same-sex relationship when K.A.F. gave birth to a son via sperm donor in 2002. Though K.A.F. and F.D. ended up separating in 2004, F.D. legally adopted the boy in 2005 with K.A.F.’s consent. Meanwhile, K.A.F. began a relationship with D.L.M in 2004 and the two entered into a domestic partnership in 2006. K.A.F.’s child lived with K.A.F. and D.L.M. until the couple broke up in 2010. D.L.M. continued to exercise some parenting time with the child, including overnights, until the couple formally dissolved their domestic partnership in 2012 and K.A.F. asked that D.L.M. refrain from having any further involvement in the child’s life. D.L.M. then filed asserted that she was a “psychological parent” to the boy and filed with the Court for custody and parenting time.
F.D., the boy’s adoptive parent, adamantly objected to D.L.M. performing parental duties with her son.
In an earlier “psychological parent” case, V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200 (2000), the Court created a four-part test to determine whether someone is a “psychological parent” to a child: 1) the legal parent must consent to and foster the relationship between the third party and the child; 2) the third party must have lived with the child; 3) the third party must perform parental functions for the child to a significant degree; and 4) most importantly, the parent child bond must be formed. Id. at 223.
The family court in K.A.F. v. D.L.M. interpreted part one of the V.C. v. M.J.B. test to mean that both legal parents must consent to the creation of a “psychological parent” relationship before the Court can consider the issue. Therefore, because F.D. did not want D.L.M. to perform parental duties, the Court dismissed D.L.M.’s complaint for custody and parenting time.
The Appellate Division, however, reversed the family court’s ruling and held that the opposition of one legal parent to a third party performing parental duties does not alone deprive that third party of standing to file an action for custody and parenting time. D.L.M.’s complaint was therefore reinstated and the was matter set down for a hearing to determine whether if it is the best interests of the child that D.L.M. have custody and/or parenting time.
K.A.F. v. D.L.M. is a significant case for all non-legal parents seeking custody and parenting time of a child, including grandparents. It is important to note however, that the Court will still consider the objection of one legal parent as a factor in determining whether the third party has a psychological parent relationship with the child.
Psychological parent cases can be complicated and difficult. Thankfully, experienced attorneys, such as those at Salvaggio Law Group, are here to help.
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey divorce and family law matters, including child custody, parenting time, and grandparent visitation.
If want to talk you call us at (973) 455-1220 or fill out the Contact Form on our website.