The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently recognized the custody rights of non-biological parents in R.L. v. M.A., 2740 EDA 2018. In the case, a couple decided to have a child using the egg from the biological mother and the sperm from a relative of the non-biological mother. The non-biological mother helped decorate the nursery and selected the child’s first name and was present at the birth of the child. The couple broke up soon after the child was born. Initially the non-biological mother had custody of the child every other weekend and when the child was two (2); but the couple agreed to share 50/50 custody. When the child turned five (5), the couple had a dispute and the biological mother attempted to stop all custody rights of the non-biological mother. The trial court gave 50/50 custody, finding the non-biological mother in loco parentis and therefore eligible for any form of custody. In loco parentis means “in the place of a parent.” Under Pennsylvania Custody Law, an individual who has in loco parentis status can seek primary, shared or partial physical custody of a child.
The biological mother correctly argued that a biological parent begins a custody case with the scales tipped in their favor. The biological mother then argued a non-biological parent must tip the scales not only even, but down to their side in order to obtain custody. The Court noted that a non-biological parent must tip the scales down to their side not only seeking primary custody but that the scales only need to be tipped even for shared custody. The Court also held a non-biological parent does not need to show that a biological parent is unfit and if the custody factors are even, custody does not automatically go to the biological parent. The paramount concern is the “best interest” of the child.
This case solidified the Court’s position on non- biological parental custody rights and set a clear standard for shared custody and third- party rights. Pyfer, Reese, Straub, Gray & Farhat have experienced custody attorneys who understand what the courts require. Please contact us to protect your custody rights.
~Gerryanne P. Cauler, Esquire