In Loco Parentis Standing and Third-Party Custody Rights

December 5, 2022 | By Amanda C. Frett

The American family structure has significantly evolved in recent years. Statistical research shows that two-parent households are on the decline and divorce, remarriage and cohabitation are on the rise. This shift has resulted in more complex and diverse families. Grandparents, stepparents, and other non-parent guardians are playing larger roles in children’s lives. Thus, third-party custodial cases have come to the forefront of family law litigation in Pennsylvania.

In 2017 and 2018, three precedential third-party custody cases were decided by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.  The holdings of those cases are detailed in this previous article.  While the facts vary, the common thread among these cases is that a non-parent sought physical and/or legal custody of a child/children under an in loco parentis status.

So, what is In Loco Parentis?

Pursuant to Pennsylvania law, one of the individuals who may file a custody action is a person “who stands in loco parentis to the child.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the term in loco parentis literally means “in the place of a parent.”

Further, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the phrase in loco parentis refers to a person who puts oneself in the situation of a lawful parent by assuming the obligations incident to the parental relationship without going through the formality of a legal adoption. The status of in loco parentis embodies two ideas: the assumption of a parental status; and the discharge of parental duties. For example, Pennsylvania courts have found a third party could properly seek custody if the third-party has lived with the child and cared for the child in a parental role.

Therefore, a finding of in loco parentis allows third parties who are not the biological parent of a child the possibility to maintain a relationship with a child, sometimes even against the biological parents wishes. A third-party with in loco parentis status can be awarded physical custody, such as visitation with the child, or legal custody, like involvement in decisions regarding the child’s schooling or healthcare, or both physical and legal custody.

Third-party custody cases are fact specific and require nuanced analysis. Obermayer family law attorneys are experienced in handling third-party custody and support cases at both the trial and appellate level. Regardless of whether you are a biological parent or non-parent, it is important to understand your custodial rights. For more information about the future of your family, set up a consultation with an Obermayer attorney today. 

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.   


About the Authors

Amanda C. Frett


Amanda concentrates her practice in all aspects of family law including divorce, adoption, child and spousal support, custody, separation and domestic abuse in the greater Doylestown, PA area. Amanda advises people during...

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