Divorce – The “Psychological Parent”

By December 26, 2009Divorce and Parenting

The Gasper Law Group, PLLC
Domestic Relations Division

Here is the scenario: Kate is a single mother of two children ages 2 and 4. The biological father left just after the second child was born and has never been a part of the children’s lives. Kate meets Brian. Brian, being an upstanding guy who has no problems dating a woman with two children, soon marries and moves in with Kate. For two years the couple functions as a family. Kate stays home with the kids and Brian goes to work to financially support the family. Brian comes home at night and helps the children with homework, the family eats dinner together, and the bedtime routine exists of story time and saying prayers. The family attends church on Sundays. Then all of the sudden things go bad and Kate decides to split with the kids. Brian is emotionally attached to the children and wants parenting time. He also believes the kids want to spend time with him. Kate’s response is that Brian is not a biological parent and therefore has no rights with respect to the children. As it turns out, however, Kate is wrong.

In Colorado courts recognize the right of a non-biological parent under the “psychological parent” doctrine. A psychological parent is a person other than a biological parent that has a psychological attachment with a child. Typically the party asserting psychological parenting rights has been a major part of the child’s day-to-day life and making decisions for the child as a biological parent would. The courts recognize that a psychological parent’s bond with a child can often be as strong as the bond between a biological parent and the child. If a court determines a psychological bond exists, the court may award parenting time and parenting rights to the psychological parent. Brian has a good case to assert his rights as a biological parent.


Brian should keep in mind, however, that a psychological parent may also be responsible for financially supporting the children. If a person asserts that they are a psychological parent and the court finds that is the case, the court may require the psychological parent to pay child support in addition to exercising parenting time. Where Colorado, like many states, has purposely separated the issues of child support and other parental responsibilities such as parenting time (custody) and decision making, the recent case law regarding psychological parenting may just conflate the issues again. Another perplexing issue is the calculation of child support where a psychological parent is involved. Think of the situation where the children’s biological father has a child support obligation that Kate receives on a monthly basis. Now, if Brian is required to pay child support, the child support calculation involves three separate incomes (biological father, Kate, and Brian as psychological parent). An attorney knowledgeable in this area including those at the Gasper Law Group can help determine if you have the ability to bring a psychological parent claim and what financial implications come with that decision.