In Pennsylvania, biological parents are not the only people who can seek physical or legal custody of a child. Under Pennsylvania's child custody statute, in addition to biological parents, two other types of people may seek custody of a child:
- A person who stands in loco parentis to the child, and
- Grandparents who do not stand in loco parentis but meet three criteria:
- They had a relationship with the child that began with the consent of the parent(s) or under a court order.
- They have assumed or are willing to assume responsibility for the child.
- The child has been determined to be a dependent child or is at risk because of parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity, or the child, for a period of 12 consecutive months, resided with the grandparent and was then removed by the parent. In the case of the latter, a custody action must be filed within six months of the child being removed.
The obvious next question is "What does in loco parentis mean?" In loco parentis literally means "in place of the parent." The term embodies two ideas: (1) the person who stands in loco parentis to the child has taken on the responsibilities and obligations of raising the child without formal adoption; and (2) the biological parent has discharged those duties.
One particular situation where someone may stand in loco parentis is when one parent remarries and the new spouse takes on some childcare duties. They may take the child to doctors' appointments, attend the child's activities and even provide financial support. What happens to the relationship between that stepparent and the child if this new marriage ends in divorce? Does the stepparent have a right to continue to spend time with the child that they helped to raise? The answer is perhaps. Stepparents may be awarded custody of the child in cases where the court finds that they stood in loco parentis to the child.
So, if that former stepparent has a right to custody, do they have the same responsibilities as a biological parent? Must they continue to lend financial support in the form of child support paid to the biological parent? The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has stated that while stepparents have custody rights, they do not have child support duties. The court seems to be unwilling to impose a court-ordered duty of financial support in exchange for physical custody of the child for the former stepparent.
The Bucks County child custody and child support attorneys at Williams Family Law are experienced in dealing with all custodial matters, including those that may be vested in someone other than a biological parent. We can advise you on the best course of action in the best interests of your children or stepchildren. If you have questions, please call us at (215)340-2207.