Psychological Parents Awarded Custody Over Great Grandparent’s Objection
- May 27, 2014
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In the recent child custody case involving grandparent’s rights, E.B.S. v. K.M., the Defendant appealed from a judgment issued by the Family Court determining that the Plaintiff is the psychological parent of a 3 year old little girl and directing that the Plaintiff shall be the joint legal custodian of the little girl with the Plaintiff as the parent of primary residence and the Defendant the parent of alternate residence. The Defendant argues in his appeal that the ruling is against the evidence that was presented at trial. The Appellate Court affirmed the Family Court’s ruling. The Defendant’s sixteen year old daughter gave birth to Pamela, the child at issue in this case, in 2009. The child’s natural father remains unknown. The Defendant was informed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that unless she agreed to take custody of Pamela, it would start the process to remove the child from her granddaughter’s custody and place the child in another home. The Defendant immediately travelled to Texas to take custody of Pamela and bring her to New Jersey. The Defendant’s granddaughter, Pamela’s mother, then executed a voluntary surrender of her parental rights and consented to the Defendant adopting Pamela. E.B.S. is the Plaintiff and is the daughter of the Defendant’s long-time friend. E.B.S. and her husband had experienced great difficulty conceiving a child of their own, and the Defendant discussed the possibility that perhaps they could adopt Pamela. In fact, the Defendant brought Pamela to meet with the Plaintiffs nine days after retrieving her from Texas and encourage the possible adoption. Thereafter, the Plaintiffs spent a great deal of time with Pamela, bought her a crib, and even hired a nanny in anticipation of adopting her. The Defendant realized from the very beginning of the process that the Plaintiffs assumed that they would be adopting Pamela and were not just temporary caretakers. Pamela lived with the Plaintiffs for the majority of 2010 and most of 2011 and became part of their family. The Defendant suffered from many health issues during this time and was unable to care for Pamela alone. Soon the Plaintiffs realized that the Defendant, who was recovering, no longer wanted to help them adopt Pamela and therefore they brought an action in the Family Court seeking permanent custody of Pamela. During the trial, a doctor testified that Pamela had bonded with the Plaintiffs and the judge found the Plaintiffs to be the psychological parents of Pamela. The judge also noted that he was certain, based upon testimony, that during the time that Pamela was living with the Plaintiffs the Defendant encouraged the relationship between the child and the Plaintiffs. Further, it was determined that the Plaintiffs has assumed the “financial obligations of parenthood.” Next, the judge found that the Plaintiff’s satisfied the four-prong test for finding a third party to be a psychological parent that was established in V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200 (2000). Then, the judge applied the criteria for custody under N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c), and declared that the parties were joint custodians of Pamela, with the Plaintiffs being the parents of primary residence and the Defendant as the parent of alternate residence. The Defendant appealed from this decision. The Appellate Division, affirmed the lower court’s finding that for child custody matters the “conclusions of a trial judge are entitled to great weight and will not be lightly disturbed on appeal.” DeVita v. DeVita, 145 N.J. Super. 120, 123 (App. Div 1976). In its holding, the Appellate Court found that the Family Court judge’s reasoning and decision were supported by credible evidence and should not be disturbed. Child custody cases are of the most emotional and difficult cases in all of family law. If you anticipate that you may want to petition the court for to establish custody or modify your current child custody arrangement it is critical that you seek out the advice of an experienced attorney before moving forward. For more information about child custody, parenting time, divorce, alimony, child support, or other family law matters in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and in no way is intended to replace the advice of an attorney.