Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Grandparent Must Demonstrate Psychological-Parent Relationship to Retain Residential Custody as a Non-Parent

In the New Jersey family law, child custody case of J.F.v.R.M., No. 20-2-5780, App. Div. the defendant R.M. (Robert) appealed the order denying his application for residential custody of his son S.M. (Scott). Scott was born in 2007, when his mother S.M. (Sue) was 15 years old and Robert was 17. Sue and Scott lived with her grandmother, J.F. (Joan). Robert, who contended he did not know then that Scott was his son, was not involved in Scott’s life until 2011. Sue lived with Joan off and on for three years, during which time Joan was Scott’s primary caretaker. When Sue left Joan’s home, Scott remained with Joan and has lived with her for his entire life. In January 2011, Joan filed a complaint seeking custody of Scott, which was granted. She also sought to establish Robert’s paternity and his obligation to pay child support. Following a paternity test, the Family Part determined that Robert was Scott’s father. Robert thereafter filed an application for full custody of Scott. The judge entered an implementing order providing for Joan, Robert, and Sue to share joint legal custody, with Joan continuing to have residential custody. The judge recognized that, because there was no allegation of parental unfitness or gross misconduct with respect to Robert, Joan had to demonstrate exceptional circumstances, such as having a psychological-parent relationship with Scott, to retain residential custody as a non-parent. On appeal, Robert argued that the trial judge erred in finding that Joan was a psychological parent for Scott. Thus, he contended that she should have applied the parental fitness test, rather than the best interests of the child test and awarded residential custody to him. The appellate panel affirmed the trial court’s determination that Joan was a psychological parent for Scott and the custody order.

Reference: Case & Analysis, New Jersey Law Journal, 219 N.J.L.J. 482, (February 16, 2015)

Filed Under: Family Law, Child Custody; Non-Parent; Psychological-Parent relationship

Please visit our Family Law & Child Custody websites fro more information on this topic.