Can a step-parent obtain custody of a step-child?

Can a step-parent obtain custody of a step-child?

Can a step-parent obtain custody of a step-child? The answer is complicated and depends on the facts of the case.

To sue for any form of custody, you must have standing.  Standing give you a “seat at the table”, so to speak, to request custody of the child from the court.  Once you are a part of the litigation, the court will then decide a custody schedule in the best interest of the child.  For a step-parent, that standing can be found in the doctrine of in loco parentis.

In loco parentis means “in the place of a parent.”  There are two components to in loco parentis standing: (1) the assumption of parental status and (2) the discharge of parental duties.

There are many things you can do to be in loco parentis, but they all center on parental duties and responsibilities.  Participating in the child’s education, attending to his/her basic needs, such as feeding, bedtime routines, etc., are all considered by the court when determining if someone has in loco parentis standing.

Frequently, in loco parentis also means residing with the child.  A new Superior Court case, however, recently found that fact was not necessarily dispositive.  In M.L.S. v. T.H.-S., 2018 PA Super 241, the mother appealed the lower court’s order that the step-father was in loco parentis to the child and had standing.  The step-father was in the Navy for most of the child’s life.  Therefore, he was often stationed in another state or deployed overseas.  The evidence found that the child and step-father spoke regularly on the phone and the step-father visited the child 4-5 times a year.  The step-father assumed all parental duties and responsibilities for the child, including teaching him to shave, participating in his education, assisting with homework, telling bedtime stories and playing video games.  The court was also persuaded by the fact that the child was listed as step-father’s dependent and received health benefits through the military.  The court found that step-father’s absence was just one factor in the in loco parentis analysis and that his actions as the child’s parent outweighed his absence.

If you or someone you know is seeking custody of a step-child, contact our office to discuss and preserve your rights.  Click or call 610-892-3877.

About the author

About Melissa Towsey

Melissa graduated from the University of Virginia in 2002 with a double major in Sociology and Foreign Affairs. After working for several years as a paralegal in Washington, D.C., she attended The University of Villanova School of Law and graduated in 2010. During law school, Melissa was involved in several public interest organizations and published an article in Villanova’s Environmental Law Journal, “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” 21 Vill. Envtl. L.J. 159 (2010) http://www.animallaw.info/articles/arus21villenvtllj159.htm. After law school, Melissa clerked for the Honorable Thomas G. Parisi, Administrative Judge of the Criminal Division in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County.