Family Law

Visitation Rights and an Acting Parent

When a child is left with one or no parents, a caring adult often steps in to help raise the child. Courts sometimes refer to this type of nurturing adult as a de facto parent. This term simply means someone acting in the role of a parent.

Typical de facto parents include grandparents, step-parents, other relatives, and in some cases, non-relatives or former partners of a parent. A common thread in cases involving de facto parents is that the natural parents can't care for the child.

De Facto Parent Visitation

In considering whether to award visitation to a de facto parent, courts are guided by finding what is in the best interest of the child. If the child is in need of additional parenting that the natural parents can't provide, a court may grant visitation to a de facto parent. The focus is on the child's psychological and emotional development and well-being.

Visitation Factors Considered

Key factors courts look at when awarding visitation to de facto parents include:

  • Is there a blood relationship between the child and the de facto parent?
  • How much contact has there been between the child and the de facto parent?
  • Is ongoing visitation practical and will the visitation fit in with the rest of the child's life?
  • How will the visitation impact the parent's custody and discipline of the child?
  • Is visitation in the best interest of the child?

Another thing to consider is what is called in loco parentis. This term simply means the person seeking visitation has had a close relationship with the child and the child believes the person acted as his or her parent. A person considered to be acting in loco parentis could be a step-parent who has divorced the child's parent. In cases where the child has only known these two people as his or her parents, with a finding that the non-biological parent has acted as a parent, courts may award visitation.

The Nonparent Must Have Standing

In any case, a nonparent seeking visitation must show that they have standing. Standing is a legal principle requiring a person to show they have some sort of stake in the outcome of the case. When courts have to decide if a person has standing to seek visitation, that person may be required to prove they provided for the child in some way and they have an interest in the child's well-being.

Finding Solutions to Visitation Issues

Asking a court to sort out visitation issues can be stressful for children, and it can drain the family of much needed funds for the child's support. Parents should be ready to discuss fair solutions to visitation disputes involving a former partner or cohabitant. Be sure to consider what's in the best interest of the child.

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