15 Apr A modern family: Third parties raising children
by Jeralyn Lawrence, Family Law Attorney, Lawrence Law
The definitions of “parenthood” and “family” continue to evolve. Today, it is not uncommon for a child to have a parent-child relationship with someone other than the biological parents. As the needs of children change, and as society changes, so does the law surrounding custody and parenting time.
Therefore, a third party who lives in a family-like environment with a child may become that child’s psychological parent. This requires the consent of the child’s legal parent. Examples include when a grandparent or aunt takes care of a grandchild or niece. This can happen, for example, when the legal parent has a mental health issue or drug or alcohol problem.
The Psychological Parent
The following elements can create the role of psychological parent:
· Entrusted to care for the child.
· Development of a parental relationship with the child for a significant length of time.
· Living with and bonded with the child.
A third party can be deemed a psychological parent when these elements are met. This psychological parent’s role becomes akin to the role of the natural parent. If a court is called upon to make a determination between the legal parent and the psychological parent, the court uses a best-interests-of-the-child standard.
Termination of Rights
There are situations where a third party seeks to terminate the legal rights of a natural parent and obtain custody of a child. Here, the party may seek to become the guardian of the child. In a guardianship application, the prospective guardian must show that the parent is unfit, or has abandoned the child, or has committed some other gross misconduct with exceptional circumstances, to overcome the deference given to legal parents.
The Kinship Relationship
In a situation where a third party seeks to care for a child but not extinguish parental rights, a kinship legal guardianship provides a viable alternative. A kinship relationship is where a relative or family friend is connected to a child, or a child’s parents, by an established positive psychological or emotional relationship.
Adoption is a viable option in certain circumstances. It is the most permanent legal option for those seeking to obtain custody. Adoptive parents stand on equal footing with legal parents. They have the same rights and protections under the law.
As we see the definition of family expanding, so too does the law surrounding those issues. As always, the best interests of the child remain paramount. The best interests can come from the love, support, and stability from someone other than a biological parent.
Jeralyn Lawrence is a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung. She also serves as Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association (slated to become President in 2022), is the Past Chair of the Family Law Section of the NJSBA, and serves as Second Vice-President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She can be reached at or (908) 645-1000.
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