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In loco parentis” in Custody Cases

The term in loco parentis is a Latin term that means “in place of a parent,” or refers to one who takes on “a parent’s rights, duties, and responsibilities.” Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd ed. 1910). In custody cases in Pennsylvania, one who has acted in loco parentis for a child may have standing to sue for custody if they can prove that they have acted in loco parentis for the child. Not everyone who cares for a child stands in loco parentis to the child; for example, a babysitter who provides care for a child, a grandparent who occasionally has the child for weekend visits, and others who provide temporary care of a child are not typically going to be acting in loco parentis in the way that the custody statutes intend.

Typically, a person who has acted in loco parentis for a child must prove that they have truly stood in the place of a parent for a sustained period of time; for example, the child may have lived with them, during which time they fed and clothed the child, ensured that the child was receiving an adequate education, brought the child to doctor’s appointments, and other duties that a parent would typically be primarily responsible for performing. There is no bright line rule for when a person has acted in loco parentis, so it is necessary to explain in each case how the circumstances of that particular case fit the definition. For example, if a child was living with a caregiver but the parent was also living there, that might weigh against that person being found to be acting in loco parentis if the parent continued to perform parental duties and the caregiver was more of a babysitter or a roommate. The burden is on the person seeking standing to prove that they acted in loco parentis to a child.

Standing is only a first step in a custody matter; even if an individual is granted standing, that does not necessarily mean that they will receive any custody rights to the child, but rather that they have the right to sue for custody. The primary concern of the Court in any custody matter is the best interest of a child. More information about the factors the court will review in custody matters, and custody matters in general, can be found on this website.

If you are interested in discussing your unique custody matter in more detail with one of our attorneys, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 for a consultation with one of our attorneys.