Lesbian Stepmom Wins Custody Rights as 'Psychological Parent'

When a New Jersey lesbian couple split, a stepmother claimed parenthood doesn't end with biological ties.

BY Mitch Kellaway

August 11 2014 4:42 PM ET

A New Jersey appellate court last week recognized the right of a stepparent to seek visitation or custody after having raised a stepchild from a young age, according to a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The case revolved around a lesbian stepmother "D," who had co-parented her 18-month-old stepson with his biological mother, "K." The boy also has a third adoptive mother from a previous relationship.

When D and K — who had entered into a domestic partnership before New Jersey had marriage equality — eventually split, K tried to keep D from seeing her stepson. D said she had bonded with the boy, although they had no biological or legal ties.

D filed a complaint seeking custodial and visitation rights, but she lost in trial court. The appeals court, however, ruled it would be in the boy's best interest for his stepmother to continue being in contact with him.

"We applaud the New Jersey court for recognizing that courts must be able to protect a child's relationship with the people who have raised and cared for the child as parents — no matter who those people are," said Cathy Sakimura, NCLR's family law director. "Families are formed in countless different ways, and the law must be flexible enough to protect children from the deep psychological harm that comes from severing a parent-child bond."

In explaining the ruling, the court drew on the doctrine of a "psychological parent." This describes any guardian who lives with and cares for a child for a significant amount of time and develops a parent-child bond with them, even if the child has two other legal parents, and even if the psychological parent was not married to one of the other parents.

Tags: Women, Families

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