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Acting in loco parentis and Seeking Custody: When can I obtain custody of a child that I care for, when I am not the child’s parent or grandparent?

Most people are familiar with the concept that parents can generally sue for custody of their child.  Many people are also aware that grandparents may often be able to sue for custody of a child.  Less familiar to most people is the concept that an individual who is not a parent or grandparent of the child, but who has acted in loco parentis to that child, may also be able to sue for custody.

The term in loco parentis is a Latin term meaning “in the place of a parent.”  Broadly, the term can refer to anyone who may act in the place of a parent.  In the context of child custody actions in Pennsylvania, it is used to refer to individuals who have cared for a child in their home like a parent would.

The child custody statutes in Pennsylvania do not define precisely what types of activities would qualify as parental duties, aside from rather vaguely stating that parental duties “include[] meeting the physical, emotional and social needs of the child.”  There is no simple test to determine whether an individual has acted in loco parentis to a child.  Instead, a judge who is trying to determine whether an individual has acted in loco parentis to a child will look at the overall circumstances of their relationship with the child.  The length of time they have cared for the child (typically for a minimum of 6 months), the duties they have performed for the child (such as transporting the child, feeding the child, bathing the child, playing with the child, etc.), and other circumstances that illustrate their relationship with the child may be considered.

Even if a judge determines that an individual has indeed acted in loco parentis to a child, that does not necessarily mean that that individual will ultimately be provided custody rights to the child.  It means, instead, that they will be permitted to seek custody of the child, and they will have to follow the Court’s process to do so (see our articles entitled “Child Custody,” “Custody FAQ,” and “Custody Trial: What to Expect” for more detail on the child custody process).

If you are interested in learning more, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.