New Jersey law provides that third parties (someone other than the child's mother or father) have standing to seek custody of children if they have become the children's psychological parent. A third party who seeks standing to obtain custody must first prove that there are "exceptional circumstances" to warrant such consideration. After the exceptional circumstances are proven, a court shall use a best interest evaluation to determine the issue of custody between a legal parent and a nonrelative third party.

Third parties who live in family-like circumstances with a child may become, with the express or implied consent of the legal parent, a psychological parent of the child. To be declared a "psychological parent" one must establish:

  1. The legal parent consented to or fostered the parent-like relationship;
  2. The third party and the child lived in the same household;
  3. The third party assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child's care, education and development without the expectation of financial compensation; and
  4. The third party has been in the parental role long enough to have established a bonded, dependant relationship, parental in nature.

Once the third party establishes his or her status as psychological parent, the legal parent may not unilaterally terminate the child's relationship with the psychological parent. A court must decide custody and parenting time disputes between the legal and psychological parent according to the best interest standard. The standard for denying parenting time to the psychological parent is that it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that (1) granting parenting time will cause physical or emotional harm to the child, or (2) the parent is unfit.

To help understand how the laws regarding third-party custody cases might apply to the particular details of your case, please call us at 973-993-9960 or click here to schedule a consultation.