A de facto parent is an adult who may not be related to a child biologically, but has provided for the child’s basic needs or regularly cares for the child. Alternatively, a de facto parent may be an adult who has simply developed a parent-like bond with the child, and interacts with them on a daily basis. A de facto parent is most commonly associated with children who have been left with only one parent, or no parent. The de facto parent would be an adult who steps in to assume the role of parenting the child, and is generally assigned by a court.

In the majority of cases, the de facto parent is granted both physical and legal custody of the child (or children) involved. However, it is not uncommon for de facto parents to receive split custody of the child involved. Such an arrangement would mean that the de facto parent may only partially assume child rearing responsibilities, and may also be granted visitation rights similar to the rights awarded through a divorce situation.

People who generally take on the role of a de facto parent include:

  • Either maternal or paternal grandparents;
  • Close relatives on either side, such as aunts and uncles;
  • Stepparents; and
  • Non-relatives if a close relative cannot be located to care for the child.

When assigning a de facto parent, the court will adhere to the child’s best interests standard, as with any other guardianship or child custody arrangement. Some qualifying factors include but may not be limited to if the child and the de facto applicant have created a psychological bond, and if the applicant has acted as a parent to the child on a day to day basis for a significant amount of time.

Do De Facto Parents Have Any Visitation Rights?

Visitation rights afforded to de facto parents will vary according to what state they are in, as well as each individual parenting arrangement. It is important to note that a de facto parent arrangement generally results from the death, incapacity, or inability of the child’s biological parent(s) to care for them. An example of this would be when the child’s biological parent has a substance abuse issue and cannot fully care for their child.

In such cases, the de facto parent could have significant visitation rights. This could include weekend visitation, or cyclical rotations with the biological parent. A court will consider several factors when awarding visitation rights to de facto parents. Some of these factors include but may not be limited to:

  • Whether a blood relationship exists between the child and the de facto parent;
  • The amount of contact between the child and the de facto parent in the past;
  • Whether visitation is practical and will contribute to the child’s overall adjustment and development; and
  • Whether the visitation rights granted to the de facto parent will interfere with the custodial parent’s upbringing of the child.

Something else that courts consider in regards to visitation rights and de facto acting parents, is the idea of “in loco parentis.” What this term refers to is a situation in which an adult has maintained such a close relationship with the child, that the child treats the adult as if they were their parent.

An adult acting in loco parentis may also be granted visitation rights, and is common in family settings that involve step parents or foster parents. Above all else, the child’s best interests will always be considered.

Can Visitation Orders Be Contested?

Generally, once visitation orders have been issued by a judge, they are binding and enforceable under law. However, there are some circumstances in which a visitation order can be contested or altered by a de facto parent. A request must be made for this. Importantly, such requests will not be automatically granted.

Some circumstances in which a visitation order may be contested by a de facto parent include but are not limited to:

  • The custodial parents have violated the terms of the original visitation order;
  • The visitation order no longer maintains the child’s best interests due to a change in circumstances;
  • The current custody arrangement either no longer benefits or actually harms the child;
  • An error was made when the original order was issued; and/or
  • The custodial party engaged in fraud, or falsified documents related to the original order.

In order to contest an order, the de facto parent will need to provide proof of their claim. An attorney can help with any parentage legal issues you may be a part of.

Do I Need an Attorney for Issues Regarding Visitation Rights and De Facto Parenting?

If you have any questions regarding visitation rights and de facto parenting, you should consult a skilled and knowledgeable child visitation attorney. An experienced child visitation attorney can help clarify and determine your rights as a de facto parent, as well as negotiate for a visitation schedule that best suits the needs of all parties involved.

An attorney may also assist you in contesting a pending visitation order or modifying a past order. Finally, an attorney can represent you in family court as is needed.