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Psychological Parent Status Difficult for Extended Family Members

In part of its holding in a recent unpublished decision, C.D. v. N.D.M., the Appellate Division denied an aunt's claim that she served as a psychological parent to her young niece despite the two residing together for two-and-a-half years.

The court determined the "best interests" standard should be applied when a third party as a psychological parent is requesting joint custody and visitation of a minor child. As described in V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200, 205 (2000), this standard will be applied "to all persons who have willingly, and with the approval of the legal parent, undertaken the duties of a parent to a child not related by blood or adoption."

The court found that the aunt was not a psychological parent of the child since the biological mother did not explicitly give her sister "the duties of a parent," as distinguished from the assistance of an aunt. The court then applied a test to analyze a custody dispute between a third-party and a parent and found the mother did not cede her rights as a parent to the aunt by taking advantage of her assistance.

Accordingly, the court would not apply the "best interests" standard, as the aunt did not have standing to bring her claim for custody and/or parenting time with the child.

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