On July 7, 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals finally overturned Janice M. v. Margaret K., 404 Md. 661 (2008), which was a landmark case in Maryland regarding De facto parents. De Facto parents describes custody or visitation rights for adults based on their relationship with a non-biological, non-adopted child. This case laid out the factors a De Facto parent had to overcome in a custody battle against a biological or adopted parent. The case required the De Facto parent to prove that the biological parent is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances before a judge can apply a best interests of the child analysis.
Here’s a fictional story about how the law worked previously: Julie and Jane have been together for 10 years, but never married. Julie and Jane have a child, Charlie, conceived with the help of a sperm donor by Jane. Because Julie did not adopt Charlie, she is a De Facto parent. Julie does not have any rights to Charlie and if Julie wanted to have visitation rights if Julie and Jane separate, she would have to prove that Jane is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances, even if it would be in the best interest of Charlie for Julie to have visitation rights.
In this new decision (Conover v. Conover), Julie is allowed to contest custody or visitation and does not need to prove that Jane is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances. You can read more about this decision in a recent Baltimore Sun editorial.
Unfortunately, this decision does not apply to third party custody cases (grandparents or other relatives) who may be seeking custody and/or visitation with a minor child. Third party custody cases still require the non-biological/adopted parent to prove that the biological parent is unfit or that there are exceptional circumstances to a trial court can apply the best interests of the child standard.