Family Law Written Testimony

THE UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE’S FAMILY LAW CLINIC

TESTIMONY SUPPORTING HB 577, THE FAMILY LAW – DE FACTO PARENT BILL

BEFORE THE MARYLAND HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

 5 March 2015

The University of Baltimore’s Bronfein Family Law Clinic strongly supports House Bill 577. Our experience representing clients has shown us that a failure to recognize a de-facto parent status undermines the best interests of children and familial stability.

Maryland’s current statutory landscape is rooted in the notion of a traditional nuclear family that simply does not reflect a modern society where non-traditional families are the new tradition.[1] By recognizing de-facto parents, House Bill 577 protects relationships between children and their parents – persons whom these children have relied on for financial, psychological and emotional support. This bill outlines the duties and rights of parents, fortifying Maryland’s commitment to provide for a child’s best interests.

Our law presently stands as a disservice to Maryland parents, like our client Keisha, who have provided substantial everyday care for their children, but aren’t allowed to see them because they lack shared genetic makeup or an adoption order. A present and active parent, Keisha arranged her son’s conception, accompanied her partner at prenatal medical appointments and prepared the family home for his arrival. Keisha cared for her son; she changed his diapers, tucked him in at night, played with him, and loved him. She financially supported her family, while her partner took maternity leave. But, as it sometimes happens in relationships, things between Keisha and her partner of six years did not work out, and so they made the decision to part ways. For two years, Keisha was a constant presence in her son’s life, and then she was cut off from him – denied visitation by her former partner, the child’s biological mother. Despite the deprivation, Keisha continued to provide for her son in any way that she could. Keisha paid for his daycare and coordinated his potty training schedule. To ensure the safety and well-being of her child, Keisha even delivered food, clothes, diapers and wipes to the doorstep of her former partner’s home. Keisha desperately tried to continue being a meaningful part of her son’s life, but the Court ultimately denied her visitation. Keisha’s status as a non-biological, de-facto parent had thrust her in an uphill battle within our court system.

The test delineated in this bill is a justifiably difficult standard. It does not create a relationship where one does not exist. A de-facto parent must have taken on full and permanent parental responsibilities, lived with the child, and formed a meaningful parental relationship wherein the child treated the person as a parent. The bill also features a safeguard that requires a child’s legal parent to consent to the de-facto parent’s relationship with the child. Opposing this bill because “adoption is easy” or “a two-parent ‘cap’ might make things easier” misses the point. These illusory and flawed propositions neglect a duty to serve the best interests of children, while harming the persons, like Keisha, whom these children have grown to care, love and treat as parents. Most of the country has taken notice and protected against the sort of harm that Keisha and her son were forced to experience. Thirty jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and the District, have followed the advising principles of the American Law Institute and Uniform Parentage Act by adopting statutes that recognize the role of de-facto parents.[2]

A best-interest-of-the-child standard demands Maryland’s acknowledgement of parenthood as much more than blood lines and birth certificates. Parents in everything but paper and plasma should be legally recognized for the important roles they serve in children’s lives as caretakers and financial providers. And children in Maryland deserve to receive the genuine best interests that our judiciary and legislature have promised them.

For these reasons, we urge the committee to issue a favorable report on HB 577.

[1] Most children are not raised by two heterosexual parents in their first marriage, according to 2013 census data compiled by the Pew Research Center.

[2] The ALI Principles and UPA urges states to recognize the role of a nonparent who has lived with the child since birth and, by agreement with the legal parent, helped raise the child and taken on “full parental responsibilities.” ALI, Principles & 2.03(b).

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