Custody Rights for Non-biological Parents

Child custody disputes commonly involve a court deciding parenting time between two biological parents. However, family dynamics aren’t the same in every home. Step-parents, parent’s long-term partners, relatives, or family friends often care for and form close relationships with children. Therefore, it’s not rare for “non-biological parents” to seek custody in court.

Fortunately, many states are increasingly granting both physical and legal custody to non-biological parents. If you’re a step-parent or a relative caring for a child, read on to learn about your parental rights. You may also need to discuss your unique situation with an attorney who practices family law West Chester PA.

Eligibility for Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania family law, the individuals who can file for a child’s legal and physical custody include:

  • A child’s parents (either adoptive or biological)
  • Someone standing in loco parentis to a child
  • A child’s grandparent who’s not in loco parentis but fulfills specific requirements.

If you wish to obtain custody when you’re neither a parent nor grandparent to the child, you must stand in loco parentis. Standing in loco parentis means “standing in the place of a parent.”

It’s a legal doctrine that applies to any individual who fulfills a biological parent’s role in a child’s life. He or she takes on responsibilities like clothing, feeding, medical care, housing, and affection.

Individuals who stand in loco parentis mustn’t be directly related to the child. They often involve grandparents and step-parents. However, they can also include older siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, neighbors, romantic partners of biological parents, and family friends. Once you’ve determined that you stand in locos parentis, you’re eligible to file for custody.

Proving Your Parental Rights

According to Pennsylvania law, a biological parent must be out of the child’s life for specific reasons, before you can get custody. Some of these reasons may include death, incarceration, abandonment, health condition, and substance abuse. Therefore, you must prove with logical and persuasive evidence that:

  • The biological parent has no form of care or control towards the child
  • You have assumed or are willing to take responsibility for the child
  • You have a substantial, sustained, and sincere interest in the child’s welfare

The court will determine if you have assumed or are willing to accept responsibility and your sincere interest in the child. Some of the factors they’ll consider are the nature, quality, and extent of your involvement in the child’s life. You may have to show how you’ve provided, cared for, and showed affection towards the child.

Adopting the Child

While proving that you stand in locos parentis, may grant you custody over the child, it doesn’t give you full parental rights. It means that the biological parent can challenge your physical and legal custody rights in the future. Therefore, if you wish to obtain unlimited rights and responsibilities, you’ll need to go through a formal adoption process.

Adopting the child, especially against the biological parent’s objections, may be more complex. You may have to prove that the parent is unfit or incapable of raising the child. The court will also have to determine if living with the biological parent is in the child’s best interest. However, hiring a professional who understands family law in West Chester, PA, might be helpful.


Although the law recognizes that biological parents have superior custody rights, certain situations can allow non-biological parents to get custody. So, consult with an expert in family law in West Chester, PA, to determine your rights.