By Fred Franke
The Law Office of Frederick R. Franke, Jr. LLC
The latest word from the appellate courts defining familial relationships is the Court of Special Appeals which revisited the issue of de facto parent status in In Re: J.M., Jr., 2017 WL 3141086 (7/25/17, unreported). Last year, the Court of Appeals recognized de facto parenthood to grant visitation rights to the non-biological parent of a child born to same-sex couples. Conover v. Conover, 450 Md. 51 (2016). The child was born prior to the couple marrying (actually prior to the enactment of Maryland law permitting them to marry) and the non-biological parent sought visitation, as a de facto parent, after the couple’s subsequent divorce.
In Re: J.M., Jr., was against the backdrop of a CINA proceeding. There, a grandmother was the legal guardian of a 10 year old boy who had very little contact with his birth mother (a daughter of the grandmother) or his birth father since the child was 2 years old. Although the child’s grandmother was the legal guardian, his aunt (the mother’s sister) was effectively the one raising the child. The Juvenile Court, in the CINA proceeding, recognized the aunt as a de facto parent and consequently the aunt gained full equal party status with the natural parents in the proceeding. The mother, the father, and Child Welfare Services appealed.
As with many CINA cases, the facts are sad. The child had pronounced mental health issues and those in his family orbit did also: “Many of the parties have reported histories of mental health needs and physical limitations …”(Footnote 5 of In Re J.M., Jr.). [Read more…]