Are you my Mother? A Critique of the Requirements for De Facto Parenthood in Maine Following the Law Court's Decision in Pitts v. Moore
Are you my mother? The answer to this question may not have been very difficult to ascertain years ago, however it is not so easily answered today. With advancements in technology, shifts in family structures, and changes in social norms, new legal issues pertaining to parental rights have materialized. The right to raise a child as one sees fit is one of the oldest fundamental rights recognized and protected by the United States Constitution. However, courts are now being asked to consider the rights of “legal strangers” at the expense of the biological or legal parent. One method that a “legal stranger” can use to attain parental rights over the objection of the biological parent is the doctrine of the de facto parenthood. In Maine, there is relatively new, and was first recognized by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, in Rideout v. Riendeau. There, the court addressed de facto parenthood as applied to grandparents seeking parental rights, but acknowledged that other jurisdictions have opened the door to non-biological adults who have become de facto parents of a child. One year later, in Stitham v. Henderson, the court acknowledge granting parental rights to third parties by noting that a court may give such an award to “ a person with significant bonds to the child” where that person has more than a limited relationship with that child. Although the law court has recognized that de facto parenthood does exist in Maine, it has only addressed the issue on four occasions since Stitham. In each of these cases the court was asked to determine whether a “legal stranger” was entitled to parental rights under the de facto parenthood doctrine, but the court never established a precise test for making this determination. Due to the lack of necessarily infringes on the fundamental rights of the biological parent, the Law Court in Pitts v. Moore sought to offer clarity and provide guidance by establishing a clear standard in Maine. While well intentioned, the new standard, ultimately, has muddied the waters for deciding de facto parenthood and fails to adequately account for the constitutionally protected rights of the biological or legal parent.