De facto parents definition

Determining the parentage and assigning parental rights can sometimes be difficult. Father rights, in particular, can be confusing, especially in case of adoption and when talking about non-biological parents.

If you are not the biological parent of a child but feel that you have taken on all parental duties voluntarily, you may be wondering about de facto parents and legal guardians. Keep reading to learn about the difference and find out what applies to your case.

Who Is a De Facto Parent?

A de facto parent is an adult who has formed a parent-child relationship with a minor voluntarily even though they are not the minor’s biological parent.

This includes parental and primary care responsibilities normally carried out by parents, which the de facto parent takes on without getting nor expecting to receive financial compensation.

Not all states recognize de facto parenting. In those that do, it is necessary to prove to have cared for and supported a child like a parent would do. The requirements for this vary by state but may include:

  • Having lived with the minor for a significant period of time
  • Understanding and accepting the full responsibilities of a parent without expecting financial compensation
  • Having an emotional bond with the minor resembling that between a parent and their child
  • Another parent/family member of the child has recognized and supported this relationship
  • Continuing this de facto parental relationship is in the best interest of the child

Legal guardians are individuals who are granted custody and guardianship of a minor or vulnerable person by a court of law. De facto parents can be granted full or split legal custody of the child.

Therefore, sometimes the 2 terms can overlap but legal guardians and de facto parents are not the same. De facto parents must prove to have already acted as parents of the minor while legal guardians may be appointed even though they have not so far performed parental duties.

Moreover, it is possible to become the legal guardian of any vulnerable or incapacitated person, including adults. On the other hand, de facto parents act as parents of a minor.

Should I apply to be a de facto parent?

If your state allows it, you can apply to have your de facto parental relationship recognized and obtain guardianship.

This is often the most beneficial option for the child, since it grants you several rights that work in the child’s best interest such as visitation, accessing the minor’s birth certificate and medical records, and making choices regarding their educational and spiritual upbringing.