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Child custody involves more than legal rights PDF Print E-mail
(0 Votes)
Written by Delaware Online   

Emotional bonds between children and loving adults who have acted as their guardian are undeniable.

But they are not sacrosanct, Delaware’s Supreme Court has unfortunately but lawfully ruled.

The decision came in a dispute between two women whose 10-year, same-sex relationship ended 13 months after one of them adopted a child.

After the 2004 breakup, the woman without legal adoptive status sought custody of the child. She won her argument in Family Court, which ruled that the bond between her and the child was sufficient to award parental rights. The adoptive parent appealed.

Unanimously the state’s high court said that to seek custody of a child, an adult must have legal parental status - not just an emotional bond. In short, except in cases of abuse or neglect, no one but a legally recognized parent can seek custody.

This decision strikes at a traditional assumption: A consistent, committed level of care and involvement with a child has the same value as legally granted custodial agreements.

Partners in long-term, unmarried relationships, grandparents, stepparents and other unrelated guardians are reeling from the possibility of loosing access to children who consider them mommy or daddy.

As painful as it may be, the court had no choice. It should not be expected to impose an exact enforcement of family law, where the Legislature has not done so itself. New Jersey and Washington recognize de facto parental status, but Delaware lawmakers have not been so forward thinking.

The General Assembly regulates family relationships. They excluded de facto status when they revised state code in 2004, defining a parent-child relationship as a legal relationship. And when they did so they took away Family Court’s ability to adequately adjudicate custody cases with what social science and an overwhelming body of anecdotal evidence and common sense affirms - children are not inanimate objects to be owned.

In addition to and often apart from legal custody status - their best interest always includes sustaining healthy relationships that were established through family attachments over time.

The General Assembly must revisit this issue. Within the letter of the law it needs to write a statute that allows state courts to consider the emotional bonds children have with non-custodial adults in determining custody awards.

 



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