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“In Loco Parentis” Decision Leaves Many Surprised

A Pennsylvania appellate court made a decision recently that shocked many biological parents, especially those who assumed that their wishes for their child would always trump the wishes of someone who is technically unrelated to the child. Specifically, the court held that the mother’s former partner should be granted partial custody (one weekend per month) in spite of the mother’s wishes. In doing so, the court deemed that the partner stood “in loco parentis,” or in the place of a parent.

Case Background

In the facts of this case, after the child was born in 2007, their mother and the mother’s partner began their relationship, and moved in together as of 2008. Over the next four years, this partner was very active with the child, including addressing everyday caretaker needs. When they split up and the child’s mother married someone else, the previous partner stayed involved with the child, and in 2014, filed a custody action. Both the trial court and appellate court decided in favor of the mother’s previous partner, noting that this partner had standing to seek custody of the child.

Best Interest of the Child Still Top Priority to Courts

This decision—although surprising, given previous precedent in the courts strongly establishing the rights of biological parents over their children—made sense in terms of what the court felt was in the best interest of the child; specifically, that interest as enmeshed with the “strong psychological bonds” that the child had formed with the mother’s previous partner in those four to five years that they were together. The court also went into great detail concerning the relationship that the child formed with the partner’s extended family, often spending time with them in place of going to daycare.

However, it is also important to note that appellate courts must pay respect to decisions made by trial courts, and only judge as to whether the trial court’s conclusions are “unreasonable.” Specifically, the discretion that a trial court has in custody matters is traditionally afforded the “utmost respect,” especially since the trial court is the one that observes witnesses in custody proceedings and thus gains a particular knowledge that the appellate court cannot.

In Loco Parentis

The appellate court here also cited the state’s Supreme Court in finding that the phrase in loco parentis not only refers to a person who puts themselves in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming a parent’s obligations (without going through the formal adoption process), but someone who embodies two ideas, specifically:

  • The assumption of parental status; and
  • The discharge of parental duties.

In other words, both the rights and liabilities assumed by this individual are the ‘exact same” as between parent and child.

Child Custody Attorney Fighting For You

If you are involved in a custody battle—or simply need advice and guidance concerning child custody—do not hesitate to contact us at the office of Sandra Bonfiglio. Having served communities in Florida for years, we have helped many clients sort out various issues related to child custody, divorce, and all other areas of family law. We provide compassionate representation for families in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Boca Raton, and surrounding areas.

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