A psychological (or de facto) parent can be defined as a person who has, on a day-to-day basis, undertaken a parental role through interaction, companionship, interplay, and mutuality, that fulfills a child's physical and psychological needs and provides for a child's emotional and financial support.
South Carolina has adopted a four-prong test for determining whether a person has become a psychological parent. Specifically, in order to demonstrate the existence of a psychological parent-child relationship, one must show:
- that the biological or adoptive parent(s) consented to, and fostered, the person's formation and establishment of a parent-like relationship with the child;
- that the person and the child lived together in the same household;
- that the person assumed obligations of parenthood by taking significant responsibility for the child's care, education and development, including contributing towards the child's support, without expectation of financial compensation; and
- that the person has been in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established with the child a bonded, dependent relationship parental in nature.
In announcing this test, the Court of Appeals stated that [t]hese four factors ensure that a nonparent's eligibility for psychological parent status will be strictly limited. It also cautioned that psychological parents do not automatically have the right to demand custody in a dispute between the legal parent and psychological parent, as the limited right of the psychological parent cannot usually overcome the legal parent's right to control the upbringing of his or her child.
The Court reasoned that once the bond between the psychological parent and child was established, it should not be unilaterally severed by the biological parent who fostered the relationship in the first place. The standard to be applied is whether compelling circumstances exist to overcome the presumption that a fit, legal parent acts in the child's best interest, and of course, visitation must actually be in the child's best interest. The compelling circumstances standard encompasses a situation where, as here, a third party has attained psychological parent status.
You can read much more about the role and status of psychological parents in South Carolina inMiddleton v. Johnson, 369 S.C. 585, 633 S.E.2d 162 (Ct. App. 2006). This opinion includes a thorough discussion of this theory, including analysis of the decisions from other states.