In most instances, those involved in a custody case are the biological or adoptive parents. Nevertheless, a New Jersey appellate court recently allowed a stepparent who has raised a child from an early age to pursue custody or visitation with the child if that would be in the child’s best interests. This is the case even if the child has two suitable parents.
The case, K.A.F. v. D.L.M., involved a same-sex stepparent who had communal parenting duties with the child’s biological mother from when the child was 18-months-old and for over seven years prior to her separation from the mother. The court based its decision to allow the stepparent to seek custody on the “psychological parent” doctrine. The reason for having this doctrine is to protect the child from psychological harm that could occur from being separated from an adult who had a parental bond with the child.
Although the K.A.F. v. D.L.M. case involved a same-sex stepparent, the court’s reasoning depended more on the ability of multiple adults to develop a bond with a child, not on the adults’ sexuality. Consequently, it is likely that the rights granted to the stepmother in that case will extend to heterosexual stepparents.
This ruling has the possibility to affect many families in New Jersey. With family structures becoming more intricate and less traditional, you or someone you know can likely relate to the relationship a stepparent develops with their stepchildren.
We are devoted to helping parents and children maintain their relationships. If you or a friend is facing a change in your family life, please schedule an appointment with us today to discuss your rights and plan of action.