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Law School Case Brief

Janice M. v. Margaret K. - 404 Md. 661, 948 A.2d 73 (2008)


Exceptional circumstances are determined by analyzing any and all relevant factors in the particular custody or visitation case. Accordingly, while the psychological bond between a child and a third party is a factor in finding exceptional circumstances, it is not determinative. Likewise, a finding that one meets the requirements that would give that person de facto parent status, were that status to be recognized, is a strong factor to be considered in assessing whether exceptional circumstances exist. It is not, however, determinative as a matter of law.


Two women, the biological parent and her partner, had been involved in a committed same-sex relationship for approximately eighteen years, during the course of which the partner had adopted the child.  Subsequently, the partner filed a complaint seeking custody and or visitation with her adopted child. The circuit court denied the former partner's request for custody but found that she was a de facto parent and granted her visitation under the best interest  of a child standard. The court of special appeals affirmed. The mother filed a petition for a writ of certiorari.


Did the circuit court properly adopt the best interest standard in deciding that a "de facto parent" was entitled to visitation rights with her adopted child?




The Supreme Court held that the circuit court erred in granting visitation to the partner on the ground that she was a de facto parent without first finding that the biological mother was an unfit parent or that sufficient exceptional circumstances existed to overcome the mother's liberty interest in the care, custody, and control of her child under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. De facto parenthood was not recognized in Maryland. Therefore, the supreme court concluded that in order to overcome the constitutional rights of a legal parent to govern the care, custody, and control of his or her child, even a person who would qualify as a de facto parent, who sought visitation or custody, had to demonstrate exceptional circumstances as a prerequisite to a court's consideration of the best interests of the child as a factor in that decision.

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