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Bethany v. Jones - 2011 Ark. 67, 378 S.W.3d 731

Rule:

"In loco parentis" is defined as in place of a parent; instead of a parent; charged factitiously with a parent's rights, duties, and responsibilities. Grandparents who stood in loco parentis have been treated differently from grandparents who did not. Grandparents have standing to intervene in adoption proceedings involving their grandchildren when they stand in loco parentis to their grandchildren. A court may award visitation to a stepparent who stands in loco parentis to a minor child when it determines that it is in the best interest of the child. The doctrine of in loco parentis focuses on the relationship between the child and the person asserting that they stood in loco parentis. The focus should be on what, if any, bond has formed between the child and the nonparent.

Facts:

Bethany and Jones were same-sex partners from 2000 until 2008. In 2004, the parties began to take steps toward having a family. A male friend of Jones agreed to donate sperm. Bethany agreed to carry the child because Jones was experiencing some health issues, including reproductive problems. Through the process of artificial insemination, Bethany became pregnant and the minor child was born in 2005. The couple chose to give the child Jones' last name and Jones' grandmother's name as the child's middle name. Bethany and Jones intended to co-parent the child. After E.B.'s birth, the parties agreed that Jones would remain at home as the child's primary caregiver with Bethany returning to work on a full-time basis. E.B. formed close relationships with members of Jones' family. On the other hand, Bethany was not close to either of her parents, and E.B. had little or no relationship with either of them. In 2008, the parties ended their romantic relationship, but at that time agreed to continue co-parenting E.B. However, the situation between Bethany and Jones began to deteriorate. They had a disagreement over Jones keeping E.B. for a 24-hour period, against Bethany's wishes. Bethany, who had entered into a relationship with another woman, decided that it was no longer in E.B.'s best interest to have contact with Jones because she questioned Jones' ability to parent. After Bethany denied Jones visitation with E.B., Jones filed the instant action for custody alleging breach of contract based upon equitable estoppel. Bethany sought to have the complaint dismissed, arguing that Jones lacked standing to bring the suit, as there was nothing in Arkansas law that allowed her to seek visitation with E.B. However, at trial, Bethany testified that at the time of conception, she considered Jones to be E.B.'s parent. Upon trial, the Circuit Court ruled in favor of Jones. The state supreme court affirmed the circuit court's order that granted the partner visitation under a theory of in loco parentis or equitable estoppel.

Issue:

Did the lower court err in its decision to rule in favor of Jones and grant her visitation rights under the theory of equitable estoppel?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that she stood in loco parentis to the child. Considering the ample evidence about the relationship between Jones and E.B., the Court noted that it was undisputed that she was the stay-at-home parent for over three years who took care of the child and the child called her "mommy." The child thought of the partner's parents as her grandparents and spent holidays with the partner's family. The parties' intentions were always to co-parent, until the biological mother unilaterally determined that she no longer wanted the partner to have visitation. Taking all of that into consideration, the Court held that the circuit court correctly determined that Jones was a parent figure to the child.

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