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What Custody/Visitation Rights Do Maryland Stepparents Have In Divorce?


More and more these days divorces are becoming more complex when it comes to child custody and visitation.  One reason is that many stepparents who took an active role in the raising of a child during the marriage wish to continue to do so when the marriage fails.  This occurs with both same-sex and heterosexual couples with increasing frequency and has led Maryland courts to consider the implications of such a split when a biological parent does not consent to shared custody or visitation.

Rules on De Facto Parents 

Maryland law relies heavily on the concept of de facto parent in looking at these kinds of cases.  What, exactly, constitutes a de facto parent? There are four central tenets:

  • At some point the biological parent supported the parenting role of the petitioner;
  • The child lived with the petitioner in the same household for a period of time;
  • The petitioner acted in a manner consistent with parenting by contributing to the development, care, resources, education, etc., without expectations of financial remuneration;
  • The parental role lasted long enough to establish a parent-child type of bond between the child and the petitioner. 

Case Law on the Matter 

In Conover v. Conover the Maryland Court of Appeals weighed the guaranteed rights of a biological mother to make decisions about her child against the best interests of the child involved in a dispute. In this case, the biological mother had originally given her ex-husband, a transgender man, visitation rights despite the fact that the child had been conceived via artificial insemination prior to their marriage the fact that there had never been a legal adoption by the stepparent petitioner.  Later, though, the biological parent changed her mind, denying contact between the child and stepparent.  The court found that de facto parents, in this case the step-parent, did, indeed, have standing to contest visitation or custody decisions without having to prove that the biological parent was unfit or that exceptional circumstances existed.

Legal Standing Aside… 

In a case involving contested custody and visitation–whether stepparents are involved or not—there is often contention between the adult parties involved.  If at all possible, working through those issues could certainly benefit the child in question, not to mention the negotiation process in the divorce.  It is generally wise to make every effort to remain conciliatory, allowing your local divorce attorney to handle any prickly issues. This, too, is part of putting kids first.

Advocating for You 

If you are a stepparent who adores the kids and is fearful of the biological parent’s wishes to kick you out of their lives it is crucial that you understand your rights moving forward.  At the Law Office of Hasson D. Barnes, our Baltimore child custody attorneys will advocate for you every step of the way.  Contact our office for a confidential consultation today.



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