Don’t confuse ‘de facto parenthood’ with ‘exceptional circumstances,’ court says; decision ‘spot-on,’ says Scott Ghormley, family law attorney at Rose Law Group

By Steve Lash | Daily Record Legal Affairs

An adult intimately involved in a child’s upbringing cannot be deemed a “de facto parent” with a claim to visitation or custody unless both of the youngster’s legal parents consented to and fostered the child’s parent-like relationship with the individual – regardless of how neglectful the parents might have been, Maryland’s second-highest court has ruled.

But custody may still be transferred if the individual who sought de facto parenthood can show that “exceptional circumstances” – such as neglect – warrant the transfer in the child’s best interest, the Court of Special Appeals stated in a reported 3-0 decision this month.

In its ruling, the court overturned a judge’s award of de facto parenthood to a child’s maternal grandparents, with whom the boy was been sent to live, after concluding his parents had impliedly consented to the parent-like relationship by neglecting him.

The court, however, upheld the judge’s custody award to the grandparents based on the exceptional circumstance of neglect.


“The Court of Special Appeals’ decision in this case was spot-on. Legal parents have a constitutional right to determine their children’s needs and make decisions for their children. But when a parent’s ability to make those decisions in the children’s best interests is compromised, steps must be taken to protect the children. However, a transfer of custody due to exceptional circumstances should not grant temporary guardians the same constitutional rights given to a biological parent.”

Scott Ghormley, family law attorney at Rose Law Group

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December 2022