One of the grayer areas of family law is the concept of a person standing in loco parentis. Although it sounds like something a teenager made up to question their parents' judgment, loco parentis is a legal doctrine. The court may recognize situations where a non-biological parent might stand as the functional parent for a minor. Here are three things you ought to know about the family law idea of loco parentis.
In Place of the Parent
This is the modern English translation of the original Latin term. In home life, it refers to scenarios where dependent minors end up unofficially living with siblings, family friends, aunts and/or uncles, and grandparents.
Notably, this is a framework that exists outside of legal custody because the law appreciates that life is imperfect and minors can end up in ad hoc living arrangements. For example, a parent might fall on hard economic times and send their kid to live with the child's grandparents to provide a stable household. An arrangement might start out temporary only to become permanent just because plans don't always work out. It's easy to see how something that starts out as a favor to a friend or family member can lurch toward becoming de facto parenthood.
What Is the Use of This Model?
Virtually any right that can be exercised by a biological parent may also be exercised by someone acting in loco parentis. Suppose a child is living with an adult sibling. The child needs to be enrolled in school, and this doctrine provides a framework for allowing that if the biological parent is dead, incapacitated, or otherwise unavailable. This model also applies to things like claiming dependents on taxes and making medical decisions.
A Tenuous Situation
It's worth noting that the courts broadly recognize the importance of biological parents in a child's life. This means that a biological parent usually can step in at any time and cancel a loco parentis arrangement, especially if a minor is not considered old enough to decide where they want to live. Barring major concerns about the ability of the biological parent to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child, an assertion of loco parentis will not hold up against an assertion of the rights of biological parenthood.
An attorney will strongly encourage someone standing in loco parentis to get something in writing from a biological parent. In cases where the arrangement has become permanent, adoption is worth exploring simply to make the custody of the child permanent and unquestionable.
For more information, reach out to a local family law firm.