Custody Issues Non-Traditional Families may Face

Today, most families in our society don’t fit into a typical mold. There was a time when a family was a father, mother, and children. But, this simple definition of a family has evolved with the assistance of Alternate Reproductive Technology (ART) and the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, surrogacy, and unwed relationships. There are no longer just biological parents, but tri-parents, surrogate mothers, and psychological parents. While modern times have allowed couples to start a family in non-traditional ways, it creates complex legal issues.

When a relationship dissolves and children are involved, custody decisions are often the most difficult and emotional aspect of the breakup. Non-traditional families face additional challenges when it comes to deciding custody, child support, visitation, other legal issues regarding a parent’s right to their child.

Upon divorce or separation, New Jersey requires legal and physical custody to be determined based on the best interests of the child. But, this is not so simple when there is tri-parenting or when an unmarried couple, whether heterosexual or same sex, raise children together and only one of them is the legal parent. Without concrete guidance from state laws, non-traditional families are forced to resolve custody disputes and other legal issues in family law court.

While the laws and court’s decisions regarding these legal issues vary tremendously throughout the country, there is an increasing trend recognizing that maintaining a relationship between a non-legal parent and a child can often be in the best interest of the child.

A non-legal parent can be considered a psychological parent if they have bonded with a child and acted as a parent by assuming the responsibilities and duties of parenthood, with the consent of the legal parent. After a separation, this parent can receive parental rights, based on the theory that continuing the role of a parent is in the child’s best interest. A psychological parent will often be involved in custody arrangements. They can be granted custody, visitation rights and even be required to pay child support.

The legal requirements for psychological parent status in New Jersey are:

(1) That the biological or adoptive parent consented to, and fostered, the petitioner’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child; the legal parent must have fostered the formation of the parental relationship between the third party and the child;

(2) That the petitioner and the child lived together in the same household;

(3) That the petitioner assumed the obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education and development, including contributing toward the child’s support, without expectation of financial compensation [a petitioner’s contribution to a child’s support need not be monetary]; and

(4) That the petitioner has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.

In a non-traditional family, non-legal parents can be just as much a parent to a child as a legal parent. attorneys is an experienced divorce and matrimonial law attorney who will protect your interests. With over 25 years of family law experience, attorneys can help you settle your divorce or separation through a variety of methods, personalized to your needs. Call today for a consultation at 732-422-1000.