Within the New Jersey Courts system, the concept of a “psychological parent” may have originated the Supreme Court case of Sorentino v. Family & Children's Soc. of Elizabeth. While this case applies specifically to the rights of the birth mother versus the rights of the foster parents, a psychological parent can be any adult individual that has a parent-like relationship with a child. This individual willingly takes on significant child care responsibilities, including financial support, without expecting compensation in return.
The complexities surrounding the concept of psychological parentage is evident in cases like D.G. and S.H. v. K.S.. The case involved a biological mother, K.S., who had conceived a child with her gay friend, D.G. through artificial insemination. D.G. and his husband, S.H., were both deeply involved in taking care of the child, O.S.H, with the full consent of the mother. S.H., however, was not a legal parent since D.G. and K.S. were listed as the parents. This became a problem when K.S. began a new relationship, and wished to move to California with O.S.H in order to begin a new life with her boyfriend. D.G. and S.H. filed a custody motion, which asked the court to consider the following issues: 1) the rights of S.H. as the psychological parent of O.S.H; 2) the legal and residential custodial rights of each parent; 3) K.S.'s relocation application, which would give her primary custody if approved; 4) parenting and visitation rights for each parent; 5) whether S.H. should be considered a legal parent to O.S.H.; and 6) issues related to child support.
The Honorable Stephanie M. Wauters, J.S.C., ended up issuing a groundbreaking ruling, which recognized S.H. as a psychological parent, who “stands in parity with a legal parent.” While stressing that S.H. cannot be recognized as a legal parent under current New Jersey laws, his thorough and consistent involvement in the child's life gave him the right to ask for legal and/or residential custody of O.S.H. The judge gave each of the parties legal custody, as well as giving them equal residential custody, thereby creating a tri-parenting custody plan. Although it's impossible to split a week into 3 equal parts, it was ruled that D.G and S.H. would have the child during the week, and K.S. would have him during the weekend, and for longer periods during the winter and summer breaks.
In spite of New Jersey's progressive views on the custody rights of psychological parents, this is still a relatively new and complex area of family law. If you believe that you fit the definition of a psychological parent, it's imperative that you find about your rights and legal options from an experienced family law attorney. The attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. look forward to addressing your concerns during a free initial consultation.