New Rights for Grandparents and Other Third Parties Seeking Custody and Visitation in Maryland

Grandparents, same-sex partners,and other third parties now have a new way to seek custody or visitation of children in Maryland.

Until now, Maryland courts have said that before granting a third party custody or visitation, there must first be a finding of either parental unfitness or exceptional circumstances demonstrating current or future detriment to the child absent visitation from the third party. This is based on the fundamental rights of parents to govern the care of their children.

In 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals, in the case of Conover v. Conover, opened a new pathway for third parties to seek custody or visitation – a finding of de facto parenthood. A four-factor test determines whether a third party qualifies for de facto parent status:

  1. A biological or adoptive parent consented to and fostered the third party’s formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child.
  2. The third party and the child lived together in the same household.
  3. The third party assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child’s care, education, and development, including contributing towards the child’s support without expectation of financial compensation.
  4. The third party has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship that is parental in nature.

If the Court finds parental unfitness, exceptional circumstances, or de facto parenthood, the Court still will need to consider the best interest of the child. However, this new ruling opens the door for grandparents, same-sex partners, and others to request custody and visitation rights when they have been acting in parental roles and have established
parental bonds.

Erin Kopelman is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law, including custody and visitation. To discuss obtaining or defending against the rights of third parties in custody cases, contact Erin at 301-347-1261 or [email protected].