Pennsylvania courts generally affirm that parents (natural or adoptive) have the legal right to care for and determine what is best for their child. Therefore, parents in custody disputes are favored over third parties and anyone who is not a parent must be treated as a third party.
It certain situations, however, it is possible to overcome the presumption in favor of the parent. Doing so involves to distinct steps. First “standing,” which is a person’s right to bring a claim before the court, must be established. Without standing, a person cannot request any form of custody. Adoptive or natural parents automatically have standing, but thirst parties but qualify as explained below. If and when standing is established, the third party must then prove to the court that it is in the child’s best interest for them to be granted custody.
In loco parentis Standing
Any person (relative, nonrelative, step-parent, etc.) who is “in loco parentis” to the child has standing to file for any form of custody. The term in loco parentis literally means “in the place of a parent.” There are two components to in loco parentis standing: (1) the person who is in loco parentis must have assumed parental status and (2) the parents must have been discharged his or her parental duties. Generally speaking, in loco parentis standing cannot be achieved without the consent and knowledge of, and in disregard of, the wishes of a parent.
Once in loco parentis standing is established, the court will evaluate the third party’s request for custody in the same manner that the court evaluates a parent’s request for custody. Specifically, the Court will look to the best interest of the child, which is determined by the sixteen custody factors set forth in 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5328(a).
Our Family Law attorneys that specialize in Third Party Custody include: