In Loco Parentis: A Mile In Their Shoes

Many of us have figures in our lives that mirror the role our parents play. Someone you trust, respect, and love. In some adult-child relationships, those people can step into the role of a biological parent. The doctrine of in loco parentis, which roughly translates to “in the place of a parent” addresses these relationships, and attempts to protect the best interests of both the child and the adult. Because of the delicate nature of these situations, Mississippians should know their rights when they believe that a child belongs with them instead of the natural parents.

When a person stands in loco parentis, they have assumed the status and obligations of a parent. Farve v. Medders, 241 Miss. 75, 81, 128 So.2d 877, 879 (Miss. 1961). This means that person provides parental supervision, support and education as if the child were their own. W.R. Fairchild Constr. Co. v. Owens, 224 So.2d 571, 575 (Miss. 1969). In loco parentis status carries the same rights and liabilities that belong to a natural parent, including a right to custody of the child against third parties. Farve, 128 So.2d at 879.

Although in loco parentis grants these rights, the rights of the natural parents are still superior. Mississippi law recognizes the natural parent presumption, which presumes that the biological parents of a child are the best guardians for that child. A third party’s in loco parentis status, standing alone, cannot by itself rebut that natural parent presumption. Smith v. Smith, 97 So.3d 43 (Miss. 2012). For a third party to rebut the natural parent presumption, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that 1) the parent has abandoned the child; 2) the parent has deserted the child; 3) the parent’s conduct is so immoral as to be detrimental to the child; or 4) the parent is unfit, mentally or otherwise, to have custody. Smith, 97 So.3d at 46. This is obviously a high burden, especially given that clear and convincing is the highest standard of proof used in civil courts. Once the presumption is rebutted, courts may then decide the custody of a child using the Albright factors.  http://www.mspoole.com/case-results/albright/.

Children deserve to have the best parental figures available to them. Unfortunately, sometimes the best parent is not the biological one. When someone stands in loco parentis to a child, that child depends on them to be there for them, and the law can help that person keep their rights to do so. If you or someone you know has a question about in loco parentis rights, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole. Our office has the knowledge, experience, and passion needed to best address your legal situation, and to help you keep your rights to foster a relationship with a child who needs you. To schedule an appointment, call our office at 601-573-7429.

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