What is a Psychological Parent in a New Jersey Child Custody Case?

Psychological parents are people not blood or adoptive parents to a child, third parties, that fit very specific standards set by the court. The terms de facto parent and functional parent mean the same as psychological parent. Under the child custody laws in NJ, for a court to determine that a third-party is a psychological parent, they must submit evidence to prove that four elements are present.

One: Consent of biological or adoptive parent

One biological or adoptive parent must have consented to the formation and establishment of the parent-like relationship between the child and the person seeking determination as a psychological parent, and the parent must have fostered that relationship.

In a parent’s deciding to give a third-party parental duties and authority over their child, that parent has created the foundation for the child to bond with the third-party in a parent-like fashion. Because the parent has agreed to and fostered this relationship, the parent may not summarily terminate that relationship. Just because the adults end their relationship, the child is not to be harmed by having the child’s connection with the third-party severed. The courts will intervene to protect children from this result.

Two: Living in the same household 

The person seeking the status of psychological parent and the child must have lived together in the same household for a period of time, but no specific period of time has been set.

Three: Assumed obligations of parenthood 

The person seeking the status of psychological parent has assumed the obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child's care, education and development, including contributing towards the child's support, without expectation of financial compensation. Contribution to support is not limited to monetary contribution by the party seeking status as psychological parent.

Monetary contribution by the third-party looking for status of psychological parent will not be given great weight over other factors in judging the obligations of parenthood. This would be best demonstrated by a parent staying home to take care of the child rather than working outside of the home where there would be no monetary contribution at all yet a strong bond will have formed.

Four: Bonded and dependent relationship

The person seeking status of psychological parent under the child custody laws in NJ needs to have been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to establish a bonded, dependent relationship with the child that is parental in nature.

The amount of time the third-party has been in this role is not as important as the bond that has formed. Determining the strength of the bond can be dependent on the daily relationship, the age of the child during the time the child and third-party lived together, the nature of the parental duties taken on and many other factors.

The determination of whether a bond exists and its strength often requires an expert witness who has examined the child and parties to determine whether there is a bond adequate to determine the third-party to be a psychological parent.

Rights obtained upon determination that one is a psychological parent 

Once you have been determined to be a psychological parent by the presentation of your proof on the four part test above, you have the same rights as a blood or adoptive parent. The finding that you are a psychological parent to a child or children puts you in the ball game; it does not win the game.

In these cases involving psychological parents, the standards for determining custody and visitation are the same as they are between two blood parents. Always, the best interests of the child or children is the framework within which all custody and visitation decisions are made by the courts.

If you need to discuss psychological parents and the child custody laws in NJ, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.

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