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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Psychological Parent


Term Definition Psychological Parent - a term minted by three psychologists in the early 1970s, meaning that a child had only one psychological parent who should be awarded custody in a dispute, but since enlarged to include adult(s) other than natural or adoptive.
Application in Divorce The idea of the psychological parent is the rationale for awarding sole custody to the mother, but the term is also used to apply to a third party who is not a biological parent but who has formed an apparent bond with a child through daily living. When used in this sense, this four-prong test must be met: 1) The parental bond must have formed between the child and the third party who 2) must have lived with the child and 3) must have performed parental functions "to a significant degree"; and 4) the legal parent must have consented to the relation of the child with the third party.

When used in conjunction with the biological mother, the rationale is that even short separation from a child’s dominate parent -- usually his or her mother -- put the child at risk of an attachment disorder later in life.

In custody disputes, the phrase psychological parent may come into play in cases involving gay unions, where a child may have bonded himself or herself to a nonbiologically related adult who provides love, nurturing and care. Adults in gay unions often can meet the four-prong test that makes them a child’s psychological parent.

The determination that a person is the psychological parent may give him or her visitation rights, which are court-ordered privileges granting the noncustodial parent, grandparent or interested third parties the right to access a child at a fixed times, dates and durations.

Courts are very reluctant to separate parents from their children without very compelling reasons. On the other hand, courts have also recognized that children have an interest in maintaining "...the ties that connect them to adults who love and provide for them." Love, after all, is not genetic.

See also Visitation Rights; Visitation Rights, Grandparents’

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