Our world is not filled with the traditional family anymore. Our world is filled with families that have step-parents, domestic partners, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or even just friends performing duties that were conventionally done by the child’s parent. Historically, these caretakers had virtually no rights, nor any legal responsibility, for the child they were raising.
In recent years, the Maine Courts began recognizing that severing the relationship between a child and an adult who had developed a strong bond with that child and who had acted as the child’s parent might be extremely harmful to the child. In an attempt to remedy that situation, the Courts began issuing orders granting parental rights and responsibilities to what it referred to as “de facto parents.” Until recently, however, it was just case law that recognized this new category.
In order to codify the evolving trends in modern families, the Maine Legislature passed a law referred to as the Maine Parentage Act. It took effect last July.[i] The law covers a broad range of family law topics; among them is the ability for an individual who has acted as a parent, but is not the biological or adoptive parent, to petition the Court for legal rights regarding that child. In order to establish de facto parenthood, there are a number of legal requirements that must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.
Specifically, the Court must consider whether the individual: has resided with the child for a significant period of time; has regularly cared for the child; has developed a parent-like relationship with the child; has taken on complete and permanent responsibilities as a parent of the child; has provided the care without being paid for it; whether a parent of the child understood, acknowledged, supported, or encouraged the relationship; whether a parent acted like the individual was a mutual parent of the child; and, finally, whether maintaining the relationship between the individual and child is in the child’s best interest.
If a Court decides the individual has met his or her burden, the person will be deemed a de facto parent and they will have the exact same fundamental rights to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of the child as the biological or adoptive parent. This can create a number of unique and complex situations and family units, especially if the two biological parents remain active and involved in the child’s life.
If you feel you may be entitled de facto parent status or if you are concerned that someone may attain de facto parent status over your child, contact one of our family law attorneys to learn more about this new and unique law.
[i] The entire text of the Maine Parentage Act can be found 19-A M.R.S. §1831 through §1938 or on the Internet at http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/19-A/title19-Ach61sec0.html.