Important NJ Case On Psychological Parent

I’m detouring from surrogacy to write about an important new decision from New Jersey.   The opinion, issued by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, is here.   I’m going to take a bit of time to lay out the facts before discussing the issues raised and resolved.     Do note that the case is subject to further appeal in New Jersey as well as subsequent proceedings in the lower court should the appellate opinion stand.

KAF and FD were a lesbian couple.  They began living together in 1999.  They decided to have a child together.   They used sperm from a donor and Arthur was born in 2002.   They relationship did not thrive and in 2004 they split up.   However, unlike many lesbian couples who show up in court cases, they got along well enough afterwards and in 2005 FD adopted Arthur.   (She did so with KAF’s approval, which I’m quite sure was required.)

Meanwhile, KAF became involved with another woman, DM.  They moved in together in 2004 and in 2006 they bought a house together and became domestic partners.  (Arthur was then 4.)

Arthur divided his time equally between KAF and FD, but of course when he was living with KAF he was also living with DM.  Facts beyond this are disputed in this case, but DM says that when Arthur was with KAF, KAF and DM equally shared parenting responsibilities.   If this is true (and of course it is a big if) KAF must have at least tacitly agreed to this.    At the same time, FD (also a legal parent of Arthur) contends that she opposed DM taking on a parental role.  This, too, is in dispute, but it seems fairly clear that she didn’t explicitly agree to DM’s role.

The relationship between DM and KAF didn’t last.  In 2010 DM moved out of the house.   (That’s four years after they moved in–Arthur was by then 8.)    DM had visitation with Arthur for another year–until 2011–but by January 2012, KAF told DM she was terminating her relationship with Arthur.   DM sued asserting she was a psychological parent.   (If DM was a psychological parent, then the court would have to move on to consider whether the best interests of Arthur required that his relationship with her be continued.)

The trial court rejected her claim without holding a hearing.   The question the appellate court faced was whether DM had enough factual support to warrant a hearing.

The trial court had dispensed with the hearing on the theory that DM had to show that FD consented to DM assuming a parental role in order to win at a hearing and that DM couldn’t show this.   This brings me to a major (and to me, startling) holding of the appellate court:  The court held that the consent of KAF was enough to allow DM to proceed with her claim that she was a psychological parent.    The consent of both legal parents was not necessary.

There’s an extensive discussion of the NJ doctrine of psychological parent which I think is both interesting and important.   It obviously bears some relationship to the doctrine of de facto parentage, which I’ve talked about a lot.  But it’s also different in important ways.  I’m going to skip over this for now as I have a different point I want to make first.

It is worth noting that there is an established test for when a person is a psychological parent:

[T]he legal parent must consent to and foster the relationship between the third party and the child; the third party must have lived with the child; the third pary must perform parental functions for the child to a significant degree; and most important, a parent-child bond must be forged.

(11-12, quoting a NJ supreme court decision.)  DM certainly comes close, except for the consent of the second legal parent. But the quote uses the singular rather than the plural.

The point of the doctrine, as the court explains, is to protect children.  If an adult has established the relationship described by “psychological parent” then disrupting it may cause harm to the child.  This is the possibility the court must consider in order to grant visitation–the question at the best interests stage.

But as we know, parents have rights, too.  And among the most important of the parental rights is the ability to control who the child sees.  You can see that recognition of a psychological parent impairs the parent’s right.

Mostly this gets dealt with by noting that the parent consents to the formation of the relationship.  In other words, the parent exercises that right by allowing the relationship to develop.  But this isn’t the case with FD–or at least it may not be.  FD may not have consented.

I think the way the court deals with this is to say that there’s nothing that says that both parents have to consent.   The consent of one parent could be enough.   and the child’s interests outweigh FD’s interests.   (Page 15.)

There’s a lot to think about here, but I’m going to stop for now.   One thing in particular I wonder about:   If the child’s interest overrides the consent of one parent, it wouldn’t override the consent of both?

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61 responses to “Important NJ Case On Psychological Parent

  1. This case is perhaps the best argument against the whole psychological parent thing. What happens with the moms (one or both of them) next transient partner(s)? after living with the parent for a couple of years, how many “psychological parents” get to fight over this poor kid? 4? 5? 6?

    • This is surely a key question raised here. I suppose I have two responses. First I wonder if you’d agree that this is, in fact, a kid focused approach. Isn’t the court correct about the harm it would do to sever the relationship with the adult? Is this a situation where we have to balance potential harms? What is the harm of recognizing the third person as psychological parent vs. what is the harm of not? The harm of not is ripping this person from the child’s life. The harm of recognizing her is that the court has to figure out how to divide the time. And maybe the people can actually do that on their own. Are you assuming that one harm is greater and one lesser?

      My second thought is that the number of parents point may be a bit of a red herring. There are limits to how many people can play this role–because there are limits to how many people can have that kind of relationship with the child. Arthur is 12 now. It seems unlikely to me that he will form yet another parent-like bond. And that’s not going to be an unusual pattern. It will take a long time of close interaction to become a psychological parent.

      • leaving arthur aside, its the legal principle that’s important. Another case could have a kid whose lived with 3 or 4 partners by age 12. Can any transient partner claim to have formed a “psychological parent” relationship with a child? If so, how many?
        And while we are at it, have heterosexual step parents evoked the “psychological parent” card in similar circumstances and if so, what was the outcome?
        In my world, which is admittedly a mostly heterosexual one, a parent who has a series of step parents/ lovers to act in a parental role is viewed as rather unhealthy.

    • But on the other hand why should someone who has biology take precedence over another person who actually has a more meaningful role in the child’s life? It seems very closed minded in today’s society with how much more complex families are.

      • In other cases we have discussed on this blog, in order for a step parent to adopt; it was necessary to either obtain the consent or terminate the rights of the second parent.
        If one of the parents is absent, by all means, it is possible to follow these processes and have the step parent be considered a parent.
        Clearly, the fact that the law was written in singular was not intended to mean that only one parent must consent. Because if it did, it would obviate the whole body of law that exists to deal precisely with the rights of the second parent.
        Very poor ruling.

        • I think it is clear that if DM sought to adopt the child formally then FD’s consent would have been required. Had FD objected, the adoption probably would have been blocked. (Note that this would be a third-parent adoption, but let’s just set that aside.) Thus, you might see what happened here as an end run around the consent requirement. That is problematic, I think, and at least warrants discussion (not sure about condemnation). I think the response might in part be that, adoption or not, DM came to play this role in the child’s life. NJ seems to be focused on that reality–that DM is a critical player for Arthur and so Arthur himself has some rights here–some right to have that relationship protected. No saying exactly how. Could be limited contact–which means limited incursion into FD’s right. But the more important thing, to the court, is Arthurs interests. I am sympathetic to the concern the court has here, but I see the tension.

          • I don’t think the step parent is any different than a grandparent or other relative who played a strong role in the child’s upbringing. Does New Jersey accord them any rights?

            • for that matter children sometimes bond even with paid caregivers. yet the law excludes them from any rights….

              • True, but it isn’t just any sort of bonding that matters. It’s a parent/child relationship that matters. I’m wondering if part of the issue here is that you doubt whether there is such a distinct relationship? Or whether a court can determine when it exists?

            • Not sure, but clearly they would be protected IF they were psychological parents. (That’s a big “if.”) This case clearly show a step-parent can be one and I’m sure a grandparent can be, too. But I doubt they’re protected based simply on status as step-parent/grandparent.

          • I also think its rather murky what Arthur’s interests are. if she came into his life when he was already 8 odds are that he doesn’t view her as a parent, as long as he is maintaining a normal relationship with his mom.
            But even if we assume that he does, and that continuing the relationship is in his best interests, this creates a legal precedent that allows a a child life to be completely destabilized by any number of adults being allowed to form a so-called parental relationship with them (and then fight over them when the relationship ends), which is not in anyone’s interest.

            • Actually Arthur was 4. But more to the point, if he doesn’t view her as a parent than she isn’t a psychological parent. I think the most crucial factor of the test is that the parental relationship exist. It’s not just a measure of time passed–it is the existence of the qualitative relationship. (I’m not sure what the insertion of “so-called” adds.)

              Preserving that sort of relationship isn’t destabilizing, or at least, I don’t think it is. I actually think the doctrine is driven by a commitment to creating stability in a child’s life. I’m sure it is a challenge for judges to figure out if the right sort of relationship exists. But if it does, then I do think it ought to be maintained, even if diminished form.

  2. This seems odd to me, for basically the reason you raise at the end of your post. There are two ways at looking at cases like this that make sense to me:

    1. Children are not the property of their legal parents and what’s ultimately important is their well-being; therefore, if a child and an adult have a substantial parent-child bond, the law should recognize that.

    2. Legal parents are entitled to authority over and a protected relationship with their children; therefore, psychological parents should only be recognized (if at all) if the displacement of parental authority they represent was consented to/fostered by the original parents.

    But I don’t understand the middling position the court seems to take. If an adult has the consent of zero out of two parents, the absence of consent is an absolute bar, however strong or important to the child that parent-child relationship might be. But once the adult has the consent of one parent, the absence of the consent of the other is, at best, merely one factor to be considered, and, at worst, something to be ignored entirely in favor of a well-established parent-child bond. That’s an odd rule; it is very protective of one parent’s authority, and rather dismissive of the other’s.

    One thing worth noting (and potentially partially explanatory?) is that this rule encourages two-parent households: it protects the parental investments of step-parents in their partner’s or spouse’s children. This is always true of functional parenting tests. But here it goes further to protect that investment at the expense of the other parent. I don’t want to make any strong comparison (the circumstances, the legal question, and the outcome are all importantly different), but it reminds me a little of the rule in Michael M. v. Gerald D., where the unmarried biological father was written out in favor of recognizing the non-bio marital family.

    • One more thought: I wonder if it hurt the legal parents here that their positions were aligned in this case. Take the facts to be such that the right legal rule here is dispositive: DM meets the other criteria for psychological parent status, KEM consented to and fostered this parental relationship, and FD opposed DM taking on a parental role. If that’s the right story, it’s easy to have sympathy for the position of FD, who under this rule loses out for something she had no control over (and in fact tried to stop from happening). But it’s much harder to have sympathy for the position of KEM, who, having supported DM’s relationship with Arthur while they were a couple, now wants to cut her out. Focusing attention on KEM, the issue seems no different from the many other de facto/psychological parent cases, where courts (rightly) understand what’s going on to be an attempt by one parent to get rid of the other in the aftermath of a break-up of a two-parent family, and intervene to keep that from happening. Perhaps the court simply did not see the presence of FD as being enough to displace that intuition.

      • Great point. Viewed alone KEM looks a lot like one of those bad lesbian moms who tries to freeze a partner out after she invited her in. (It’s a bit different because DM is in a step-parent role, rather than being there from the beginning, but still…..). FD is different, but when they join together in the case, you might lose the benefit of that distinction.

    • I think you’ve nicely identified the two principles that seem to me to be in tension here–the primacy of the welfare of the child vs. the rights of parents. And I agree that the ground the court seems to be standing on–consent of one parent is enough–makes little sense. If you can dispense with one parent’s consent based on the interests of the child, then why can’t you dispense with both parent’s consent?

      I rather wonder if there is anything a person in FD’s position could have done to prevent this from happening. It would be hard for her to get a court to control KEM’s parenting choices when there is shared custody, I think, but I perhaps she could have tried for some provision in the original custody orders? I can just imagine that few courts would grant that.

      • Guess i’m thte only one who doesn’t see it as in the child’s benefits tot allow adults to impose any number of parents on a child every time they start a new relationship.

        • You and I are approaching this issue somewhat differently. It seems like you see this as being mostly about the actions of adults–as you say, adults imposing upon children. (This is what your phrasing suggests.) I don’t see it that way. Let’s suppose I’m a single mother. I start to date someone or, after a while, live with someone. This very likely means that the child and that other adult will have contact. In that context, I can encourage (or discourage) the formation of a particular kind of relationship–so I can encourage my new person to act like a parent, to take responsibility, etc. Or not. And I can encourage the child to relate to the person that way, or not.

          But I cannot make the parent/child relationship exist. I cannot impose it on the child or on the other adult. At most what I can do is create conditions where it might develop, over time. But the truth is, I think most parents are cautious in this regard just as most parents want what is best for their kids. So I only create those conditions/encourage this when I think it is right for the child.

          If time passes and if that psychological relationship develops then I do think the child has a right to rely on it. So I think what I’m fixated on is the price of giving the adults the freedom to foster these relationships and then rip them away.

          I have a question and an observation, I think. The question: What harm are you worried about in these cases? Injury to the child? To the existing legal parents? To both? If we look at the NJ case, what harms do you think might be there? I see the harm of Arthur losing contact with this person whose played this role–and like the court I think that might be more important than the harm to the parent who didn’t foster this role. (OK, it’s a series of questions.)

          The observation: I think one underlying difference between us is that I see the parent/child relationship that gives rise to the psychological parent or the de facto parent as a requiring a high standard, not easily met. It seems like you are thinking of something not so hard to prove–so that every person whose in a relationship with the parent might be able to claim it. Is that a fair description, do you think, of our differences?

          • My feeling is that its unwise for a parent to expect and encourage a child to view to their partner as a parent, as long as the child’s other parent is alive, well, fit and available. This is a recipe for conflict. Its hard enough for two adults to get along, let alone three. What’s more, it treats children as property to be shared.
            When adult relationships split up, its difficult enough to divide children between 2 parents; adding more to the bunch is really not in a child’s best interest. Now if the parent was irresponsible enough to set up this situation, it really sucks that the kid is now between a rock and a hard place.
            Whats more we haven’t really defined what exactly a parent child bond is and how it differs from a bond non parental caregiving figure, whether paid help, step parent or relative- and why the difference means that one should be protected and the other not.

            • You may be right that it is unwise for a parent to encourage a child to view their new partner as a parent (more about this in a moment) but this is the right a parent has, I guess. That is, the parent gets to decide what is best for the child. Now with shared custody that decision making is shared and so maybe that’s a way for a court to get a handle on this?

              But as to the question of whether it is unwise….I’m not sure. It depends on the circumstances. Suppose child is with Parent 1 every other weekend, two weeks in summer and with Parent 2 the rest of the time. Parent 2 forms a new and stable partnership. Is it clear that it is bad for the child to ease in to thinking of new partner as a parent? I think I’d have to say “it depends”–and what it depends on is a lot of variables. Now is it different if there is more equally split custody? It does change some of the variables. Do I care why Parent 2 doesn’t want new partner in? What if I think Parent 2 is just trying to make Parent 1’s life difficult? All I mean to suggest here is that it seems to me a bit of a muddle–not cut and dried. Sadly, when parent’s don’t get along it is often difficult for the kids. But does that tell us what to do? Not sure.

              As for your last point–you’re quite right and there are surely devils in this mess of details. Is there a qualitatively distinctive parent/child relationship? Can a judge (or anyone else) reliably determine its existence/non-existence? If there is (and this is a big “if”, then it does seem to me that fitting into some other category (say “step-parent” or “grandparent”) shouldn’t preclude you from showing that you’ve got the parent/child thing. But I emphasize the preceding questions–which I think you are right to raise and to worry about.

              • If the law has not defined “psychological parent” then they shouldn’t be using it as a basis for a legal ruling at all. very murky term.
                however, i think I know what the appropriate definition should be. a psychological parent, from a child’s perspective is the person who is SUPPOSED to take care of you. Being abandoned by the person who is SUPPOSED to take care of you is a very traumatic thing for a child, and that is something the law should protect.
                Now who is SUPPOSED to take care of us as children? For the vast majority of people it is our genetic parents, and that is why, when a genetic parent is absent, their children often speak of them bitterly well into adulthood- even if- or especially if- they never had a relationshsip with them.
                In the case that a parent is absent, a child may- and should- form that supposed-to expectation of another person. a step parent, a grandparent. adult romantic relationship being as unstable as they are, the step parent is a risky step but one can see the need it serves.
                In the case that both parents are present, active and involved in the kids life- 2 being the unchallenged predominant social model- the kid has no need to feel so wholly dependent on a third person, and a parent should not inculcate such a sense. Its great that the step parent is participating in care out of the goodness of her heart, but unless the parent indoctrinates the kid otherwise, I think most children would view her as an adjunct to the parent and not the parent. The relationship is one that is based on its own meritss between the two, and not any immanent obligation.

                • As a further clarification to my last comment: It’s not about love. What distinguishes a parental relationship from other relationship is not the degree of love (as if that could be quantified…). Grandparents and Grandchildren can have extremely strong feelings of love for each other, and yet that relationship is not protected by law. What distinguishes the parental relationship is the dependence and the absolute ultimate responsibility aspect.
                  This leads me to another topic we have often discussed on this blog; parenthood by contract. This is part of the reason why I am so uncomfortable with the idea of parenthood by contract- it removes the non-negotiable aspect of parenthood and with it the trust and stabliity that children should have in the world.

                  • I agree that it is not about love and surely you’re right that the degree or amount of love cannot be measured. I’m not sure if this means that it is dependence and the absolute ultimate responsibility aspect. I do think that the ultimate responsibility aspect is a piece of the picture. But I wonder if it is that the ultimate responsibility aspect allows a certain kind of psychological relationship to flourish.

                    Perhaps I do not have the skills/knowledge to define what defines the psychological parent relationship. I’m not sure it is capable of clear definition, in fact, which obviously is a problem if you import it into a legal test.

                    I know I’m not being clear–and I am working on a post on this. Maybe I should have stopped wandering on here when I said that I agree that it is not just about love……

                  • “This is part of the reason why I am so uncomfortable with the idea of parenthood by contract- it removes the non-negotiable aspect of parenthood and with it the trust and stabliity that children should have in the world.”

                    Am I understanding you correctly that you believe that genetics is the only determination of who a person’s parent’s are, that you do not believe that non biological adults responsible for children could be their parents? I’m not sure if that’s what you are saying but wanted to ask to make sure either way.

                  • yes they could be, but its not ideal

                  • What in life is ideal? No situation is perfect or ideal. In life we all have to adapt.

            • Ki,

              Someone very close to me has the exact situation you are describing. The relationship between this person and their step parent was never forced or expected, it formed naturally over time. In fact the relationship with that step parent is stronger than the relationship between that person and either of her parents. This wasn’t just a care giver relationship like a babysitter it goes beyond that. I don’t think it’s something that you are recognizing can happen or that it does exist.

        • I think that’s a slightly different issue actually.

          The court here is trying to decide between two rules. Rule 1 (the rule it adopted): You’re a psychological parent if you meet the other conditions of the test and you acquired that status with the consent of at least one parent. Rule 2 (the rule the legal parents wanted): You’re a psychological parent if you meet the other conditions of the test and you acquired that status with the consent of both parents. Then there’s (hypothetical) Rule 3: you’re a psychological parent as long as you meet that functional parts of the rest, and the consent of either parent doesn’t matter.

          All three of these rules allow for psychological parents where there are already two adult legal parents. What makes me say that you can understand Rule 3 as elevating child welfare over adult interests is that, in Rule 3, who gets to be a psychological parent is independent of what the adults want: there’s a psychological parent wherever there’s a parent-child relationship (which, presumably, would hurt the child to break up).

          We could also have a different rule, call it Rule 0: you cannot be a psychological parent if the child already has two legal parents. This rule also elevates child welfare over adult interests; like Rule 3, it makes who gets to be a psychological parent independent of what the adults want. It’s just based on a different assessment of what child welfare looks like. But at least here, everyone seems to agree that there’s no such hard-and-fast limitation on the psychological parent doctrine (which isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be). And even under a different rule, the family court judge is still going to decide how much involvement the psychological parent is actually going to have based on the child’s best interests.

  3. Julie,
    Could this ruling spill over and allow Foster Parents to claim Psychological Parents rights? For all intents and purposes when a child is in care the state is the legal parent and placed the child with foster parents with the intent that they be parents to the child.

    • That’s a good question and I’m not sure I know the answer. It highlights the dilemma with foster care: You want the foster parents to be like parents but you also want to return the child to the custody of the original parent when that is possible. In some states there are doctrinal requirements that exclude foster parents from claiming de facto. (Like you cannot do it for money.) I don’t know about NJ and even if there is something like that the point you raise is valid and important.

      • Exactly why its clear that this ruling is a,misinterpretation. otherwise there is no reason why it wouldn’t apply to foster parents all these years

    • I don’t think it could from the standpoint that a Foster Parent’s legal role is clearly defined. Unless it’s a situation where the child’s biological parents have had their parental rights terminated and the Foster Parents were filing for custody, I don’t think they could use that argument.

  4. I agree with ki sarita that the possibly exists that many so-called psychological parents could make a claim in a child’s lifetime, and this is indeed the current situation in many “modern family” cases. It is unfortunate when break ups happen, and sometimes sadly a beloved figure in a child’s life is left behind. Barring no other reason — such as that person being unfit, ideally the non-legal “psychological parent” should remain in the child’s life, if somewhat peripheral, but to give each of these persons a legal role spells chaos for a child. Two parents have enough difficulty agreeing on parenting decisions. Add in a third, fourth, or more, and the child’s life would be a disaster. Those people are “family friends” and that is how they should be treated. Ex’s should bite the bullet and allow visitation of some sort — again, unless there are issues of unfitness.

  5. If these parent-like relationships could be established without terminating the person’s relationship legal and physical to their own bio family then it would not be an affront to their rights or the rights of the people who are related to them. Even adoption needs this overhaul.

  6. “If an adult has established the relationship described by “psychological parent” then disrupting it may cause harm to the child. This is the possibility the court must consider in order to grant visitation–the question at the best interests stage.”

    So we should base decisions if it MAY cause harm? With support from their other parent/s, children recover from any supposed harm. Psychological parent status is a danger to parental rights.

    • “So we should base decisions if it MAY cause harm? ”

      What should it be based on then?

      • Unless parents have been proven unfit, I believe that they have their child’s best interest in mind and should have the right to decide who their children associate with. Especially since the idea that most children are irreparably harmed by losing a bond with someone is not based in fact. There is a lot of conjecture but no hard data, especially for children who have shown no issues with bonding.

        • Whose well being comes first, the bio parents or the child? For me it’s the child not the bio parents. Too many times the bio parents feelings are put before the child and it ends up hurting the child.

          • Who decides that well being tho? How does the judge decide what is best if there is no neglect or abuse going on? It’s easy to claim that decisions like this are child-centered. It’s not so easy to show how exactly judges will come to that decision fairly.

            It’s easy to say the child will be harmed by the separation but where is the discussion about whether or not that harm is irreversible or if there is more than passing harm? People come and go in our lives all the time. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with loss.

            • I think children’s needs should come before bio parents. You feel bio parents desires supersede a child’s needs. We agree to disagree.

              • i understood here differently- that the child’s welfare here isn’t clear cut.

                • I think it is right to say that the child’s welfare (and here I mean the particular child who is in the case) is not clear cut, but I think you need to think about that in the procedural context. Procedurally speaking, the question is whether the plaintiff has a right to try to show that the child’s welfare is at stake. So far the plaintiff hasn’t been allowed to do that, and so it is necessarily clear that we don’t know anything about the welfare of this child. If the opinion were given force, then the plaintiff would get a chance to show that the child’s welfare required that her relationship with the child be maintained.

                  I’m not sure I’ve been clear, but a different way of saying this would be that the question raised here is whether the welfare of a particular child is relevant. You can eliminate the plaintiff by saying one of two things–either that she loses because other people have better claims to parental rights, and so she cannot have a claim without infringing on their rights (nothing at all about the child there) or that in cases like this the interests of the child in continuing the relationship will never be that important or that substantial. (You can also combine these two.) I think the ruling here means that a court will have to consider the interests of this particular child and how that fits in with the rights of the adults.

                  • the child’s welfare has limits. a relative or a paid caregiver might make the same claim- that it would be harmful for the child to be separated from them, but their claim would be tossed, because the law has accepted that only the harm resulting from separation from a parent is significant. so this woman claims to be something undefined and undefineable, a pyschological parent, but hey as long as the word parent is tacked on their somehow that changes things?

              • No. I am saying that what the child needs isn’t clear cut and that it’s wrong to assume that the parent’s desires don’t also take into consideration a child’s needs.

          • I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I think I have finally figured out what has been bothering me.

            Why are bio parents painted as selfish jerks who are only thinking about themselves but the people taking them to court, causing them to spend thousands of dollars, and stressing them out to heck and back aren’t?

            Not directly related to this case tho this also happens in contested adoption. It’s selfish for a biological parent to want to keep their own flesh and blood but not selfish for the PAP’s to fight in court for years and cause the child heartache when the decision is eventually made to return the child even tho the biological parent asked for their child within days or weeks of birth.

            It’s selfish to use the laws to keep your child from being legally kidnapped but not selfish to use those same laws to legally kidnap a child.

            • You’re right to an extent. In situations where Parents close adoptions shutting out the child’s bio parent’s those parents are absolutely being selfish and are wrong.

              It’s not selfish for a bio parent to want to keep their child. But it is selfish for them to pick and choose when they want to parent and shut out a Foster Parent out of the child’s life whom they have a bond with.

              It goes both ways and I recognize that. But I’m not sure you agree.

              • “But it is selfish for them to pick and choose when they want to parent”

                This isn’t a situation in a contested adoption tho I will concede that this can be the situation in a neglect and abuse situation. Tho in our case my husband was the non-offending parent and was accused of being selfish for wanting his daughter. He certainly did not pick and choose when to parent.

                “shut out a Foster Parent out of the child’s life whom they have a bond with”

                If that foster parent did everything in their power to remove the bio parent from the situation, especially if it was a contested adoption or a non-offending parent, why would I trust them with my child? IMO, they showed no morals or ethics. How could you trust them to be objective and not tear you down to your child?

                The fosters in our situation gracefully backed out once it was clear that laws and regulations were not followed for reunification and then did everything possible to support reunification with us. Our daughter is freely allowed access to them and can call or skype with them whenever she wants and they have the time. Heck, we don’t even monitor them purposely. Visits are severely limited as we live 600 miles away from each other. This is a child who spent nearly 4 years in their care until the age of 5. She’s lived with us full-time for 3 months.

                The day she left she briefly teared up as we were backing out of their driveway. The first month she woke up in the middle of the night and start crying because she was confused about 3 or 4 times. If she fell and hurt herself she cried for her foster mom. The second month her behavior went from her best behavior to normal stuff for her age. She no longer cried for them but still got excited about talking to them and asked to both call and skype frequently. The third month she completely settled into our home and the therapist who had been seeing her every couple of weeks felt that there was no reason to continue seeing her but wanted to check in with us after school had started to see if there were any issues there. She stopped asking for phone calls and started to request skype’s but to “text them to see if they aren’t busy but if they are that’s OK”. Now we are going into the fourth month. School has been very exciting for her. After her first day we asked her if she wanted to call the fosters to tell them all about it. “No.” Second day of school. “No.” Third day of school. “No.” Yesterday we asked her why she didn’t want to skype with them. Was she mad at them? Was she sad? “I’m busy watching TV.” We ended up making her skype and I had put together her best school work for her to display and discuss with them. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is the one to cut off contact with them.

                There is a huge difference between a private adoption situation and dealing with former foster parents.

                For one, many PAP’s promise open adoption. The bond forged in the process often helps the bio parents decide to place. (Which is overtly coercive but that’s a whole ‘nother post!) I was not raised by my biological parents but by my aunt and uncle who were not fully related to me. I can talk reams about why I still felt the need to be connected to my biological parents. I had full access to both of them on my terms. Not all people who are adopted feel this way but I always felt like an outsider in my adopted family. No one looked like me. No one talked like me. Other family members would whisper about how selfless my aunt and uncle were for taking me in and how I was such an ungrateful brat at times. I was never allowed to complain about them and was always admonished with the line “but they’ve done so much for you!” It wasn’t until I moved to Wisconsin and met all my blood family that I felt like I belonged. So I can see the need for keeping private adoptions open. Foster-adopt situations are totally different and I can understand why children would need to be kept away or not want anything to do with their bio families.

                Keeping contact with foster parents tho is hit or miss. Friends of ours have adopted several children from disruption. Many of them were brought over here from Eastern Europe, dumped off in American foster care, and then adopted by our friends. They are now thriving and we have had long discussions with them and their parents about moving on from foster care. There is no biological connection to foster parents. The fact that you were in foster care is a big reminder that either one or both of your parents majorly failed you. It is not a good time in your life to remember for most foster children. Some people stay in touch. Others don’t. It’s not uncommon for former foster children to decide to cut off contact. However, our friends children all have contact with their biological relatives and are regularly taken back to their homeland to see them. They have no interest in keeping in touch with their former foster parents.

                Going back to biology, our daughter has been more interested in talking to her biological mother than the foster parents! She was deeply disappointed that her biological mother did not skype with her the other week when she had a question about baby teeth. This is a person she has not had personal contact with in at least 3 years and who very, very, rarely talked with via skype or phone. She still asks me to try to get that skype call!

                My takeaway from all that is just because children form strong bonds with specific people doesn’t mean that they are lasting or that if they are broken is there more than passing harm. The bonds between our daughter and her foster parents are being broken and she’s not only surviving but thriving. That’s not just my assessment but the opinion of her therapist, GAL, and social workers. Connection via biology is just something that happens for many people. I probably am not expressing myself perfectly here.

                Would infertility hurt you so much if biology truly didn’t matter at all? This isn’t a personal insult but an honest question.

                • I have a better idea of where you are coming from and can see why you feel as you do. I don’t fault you for that either. Anyone that’s lived what you have would feel the exact same way and justifiably so. You were never allowed to express how you felt and it doesn’t sound like you were supported in the way you should have been supported. I’m sorry you lived that way.

                  I apologize if you thought my comments were directed at you and your husband’s situation because they weren’t. They were in general statements based on cases I’ve read about. In a contested adoption sometimes though not all of the time there are cases when people pick and choose when they want to parent.

                  I’m not saying that biology doesn’t matter because to state such would be foolish. Why infertility hurts is more complicated than just biology. It’s a part of it but it’s not all of it at least for me it wasn’t. What hurts is the sadness that comes with it, loss of self confidence, loss of confidence in my body and knowing that it’s likely I’ll never be able to parent with my wife and that is my fault. Though not the same as adoption it’s complexity of hurt is not something that is recognized or understood. But like adoption, it’s very often dismissed by outsiders who don’t understand it.

                  But my feelings on the importance of non biological parents have nothing to do with infertility and everything to do with my family. If I was born fertile my feelings on this subject wouldn’t be much different than it is right now. Which is why I don’t think you should sell yourself short as to the potential role and bond you can have in your step daughter’s life.

                  What were to happen if years from now after forming a bond with her you and your husband separated cutting off contact between the two of you? Don’t you think that would be wrong to happen? I think it would for the both of you.

                  My point is don’t underestimate non biological parents role to children and the impact they have on their lives. Just because they don’t say anything or refuse to contact them doesn’t mean they don’t care about them or are hurt when they are removed from their lives. It’s just as naive as thinking that all an adoptive child needs is love and that they won’t hurt from being adopted.

                  • The plan is to adopt her with the consent of her mother which I think will happen soon. I have a good relationship with her mother and she originally relinquished to the foster parents tho I think she was seriously coerced into doing that. Other wise I would hope my husband and her mother would allow me to continue our relationship. If not I would have to find a way to back out. I don’t think there is a right or wrong to it. It would just be the cards life has dealt.

                    I don’t think that she doesn’t care about the fosters or that she wasn’t hurt from being removed. I do believe tho that she is moving on from them and that they are not primary in her affections like they were before. If they wanted to drive up here and take her for a week we wouldn’t mind at all BTW.

                  • I wouldn’t rule out her “lack of interest” in contacting them being a defense mechanism to protect herself from being triggered. What she is saying on the outside may not be what she is feeling on the inside. So I’d be careful in assuming what she is saying is what she is feeling.

                    I wish you and your family all the best.

                • Lucreza Borga, since this discussion began with regard to step-parents, I’d like to ask you as a step-parent. you refer to her repeatedly as “our daughter”. what would you expect your relationship to be with her, if god forbid your marriage should end?

                  • I’m not sure. It would depend on how the marriage ended. We plan on asking her biological mother to let me adopt her. Legally, we have grounds for TPR but we don’t want to go that route. If we separate while he is still alive and I have not adopted her, I would hope to stay a part of her life but otherwise I will find a way to gracefully back out.

                  • As someone who has someone close to me in my life who has an incredible bond with their step mother, I can’t stress to you enough that you should not underestimate your role in your daughter’s life. The person close to me would be devistated if anything happened to their step mom. So don’t think that you aren’t important or that life would go on easily.

    • I think the way this might work is the fact that it generally MIGHT cause harm gets you into court. Then the judge decides whether, in this particular case, it is very likely to cause harm. If it is, then you are entitled to relief, but if it isn’t then you are not.

      I think it is worded that way because you cannot say that it ALWAYS will cause harm (without regard to specific circumstances) so you need a mechanism that allows a court to look at all the instances in which it MIGHT cause harm and sort them out. Of course, making the other parents go to court to discuss this does burden them, but the burden of going to court so individual cases can be assessed is seen as a reasonable imposition given either the likelihood that there will be harm or the magnitude of the potential harm or both. And of course, you could disagree with the logic of this anyway.

      • “Then the judge decides whether, in this particular case, it is very likely to cause harm.”

        How is that decided tho? Where is the hard-fact based research backing this up? When I was researching bonding for our case I didn’t find anything that backed up decisions like this other than papers based in conjecture and wishful thinking. Decisions like this come across as hysteria to me. In many cases that have been in the media where a child is removed from the ‘only home ever known’ there is always a refrain among experts and the public that the child will be irreparably harmed and I have yet to read of a case where that has actually happened.

        Robert Manzanares is fighting this right now. The people who legally kidnapped his daughter were declared “psychological parents” even tho they participated in extensive fraud to keep him from forming a parental bond with his daughter. This is painted as being the best decision for her and the judge reached this conclusion due to the testimony of a therapist who has no substantial relationship with the child involved and also testified in court that he refuses to believe that a child can be moved to another home at an older age.

        Is there short term harm? Absolutely, but as parents we have to decide sometimes to inflict harm on our children for their long-term benefit.

        This paper gives an idea of my thoughts as a whole: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1211&context=djglp

  7. Julie I’m confused about how this all boils down. What about step parenthood? Sadly in this case due to the discriminatory laws on same sex marriages, the mother was not allowed to marry her partners #1 or #2. Let’s assume that she would have married them if she could have….both her wives should simply have been ex step parents. Now during her first marriage let’s say they split up and prior to the divorce, her first wife did a step parent adoption of her child because the child’s father was unidentified….which is essentially what happened – I’m basically down with that. Not a fan of step parent adoption, but it does make clear that the person’s obligations to the child are via their relationship to the child’s mother rather than directly because the child’s their own offspring. There is a court approval and the mother formally consents and the step parent formally consents and the father does formally consent in absentia – if that’s the correct way to put it. He’s given some sort of opportunity to object and due to his absence his rights are then terminated by the judge and the step parent is allowed to adopt the child – making permanent an obligation that otherwise would only have lasted as long as the marriage lasted. So this next spouse (assuming they would have gotten married) formed the normal kind of bond one would form as a step parent. Her obligation ended when the relationship ended – her psychological emotional bond might well outlast her romance with the mother.
    When parents split up and go on to form relationships with others neither parent is usually thrilled about some johnny come lately taking their kid to school or cooking them breakfast but what can they do about it? Whether the parents go on to marry others or not – that step parent status of having responsibility only because of the romantic relationship is critical to parents themselves retaining ultimate responsibility and authority. It’s critical in my mind that the step parent status not be toyed with not be breached.

  8. In the future, this won’t be a problem because it will be a crime to purposefully conceive children outside of marriage, facilitating sperm and egg donation will be a crime, children created in spite of the law will be placed up for adoption, and most children will again be conceived by committed married couples. Family courts will have much less caseload and be better able to handle the divorces and unmarried couples better.

    • I understand from earlier comments that it is what you’d like to see. You and I don’t share the same vision. I don’t know if you also mean to be offering this as a prediction of what the future will actually bring, but it doesn’t look to me like we’re heading that way.

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