Rights of Children and Non-traditional Families Are Preserved

The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a state law that recognized de facto parent-child relationships this week. The case was argued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and helps clarify the full range of relationships that are now considered legal parental status in the state.

“Upholding the legality of de facto parent status will improve the quality of life for children throughout Delaware,” said Kathleen MacRae, ACLU of Delaware executive director. “It gives all families, especially single parents and same-sex couples, a legal alternative to provide for and protect the wellbeing of their children,” she continued.

A de facto parent is a person who has built a bonded and dependent relationship with a child, with the parent’s or parents’ consent, over a sufficient length of time and has taken parental responsibility for the child, such as caring for their physical and psychological needs. The status may be granted by the Family Court when the court believes that the criteria for becoming a de facto parent have been met.

In February 2009, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that Family Court did not have the authority to recognize de facto parents as legal parents without a legislative mandate. The General Assembly responded by enacting Senate Bill No. 84, which amended the Delaware Uniform Parentage Act (DUPA) to include de facto parents as legal parents. The law was challenged as unconstitutional in a child custody suit.

ACLU cooperating attorney Michael Arrington of Parkowski Guerke & Swayze, P.A. and Richard H. Morse, legal director of the ACLU of Delaware, represented the de facto parent in the case. Morse stated that “while the ACLU almost never handles custody cases, it participated in this case because Senate Bill No. 84 was critically important to preserving the rights of children in non-traditional families and ensuring them stable, long term relationships with the people who raised them.”

Read article in The News Journal about the case.


Read the Supreme Court ruling on the case.