Third Party Custody Rights
Parties other than parents and grandparents may be able to file for custody. Section 5324 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations laws discusses standing for any form of custody. A person who stands in loco parentis may be able to obtain custody. In loco parentis status has been interpreted to mean an assumption of parental status as well as an actual discharge of parental duties giving rise to a relationship which is the same as between parent and child. You must be able to establish more than just a frequent care-taker role. New Jersey allows other parties to file for custody if they have become a “psychological” or de facto parent. This person must have established a relationship with the child with consent of one of the parents, be living with the child, have taken on all responsibility for the child, and have developed a meaningful relationship.
If a party has established they are a “parent” under the applicable statute, any custody matter then proceeds as usual with an analysis of the best interests of the child. If a party has not met the requirements to be designated as a “parent,” they may still be able to request custody in NJ. The party must prove there is gross misconduct, neglect or exceptional circumstances affecting the welfare of the child. If that is proven, the then court shall consider if awarding custody to the third party would promote the best interests of the child. The initial inquiry is a tough to prove. This is due to a presumption that the parents should have custody and the state’s position in protecting the constitutional rights of parents as it relates to autonomy over their own children.