Whether you’re married or cohabiting with a partner who has children from a previous relationship, you could acquire parental rights over time to your partner’s children regardless of being biologically related to the child. There is a special term for this, and it’s called “loco parentis” which is Latin for “in the place of a parent”.
Standing in the place of a parent or Loco Parentis refers to the legal responsibility of a person to take on the functions and responsibilities of a parent as if that child were their child. Which means if you and the child’s parent were to separate, in the eyes of the law you could be required to support that child even after the breakdown of your relationship.
There is no set rules in determining if you are in place of a parent, however some factors the Courts look at include:
Providing financially for the child,
The child’s participation in the extended family and if it is the same level of participation a biological child would have,
Disciplining the child as a parent would,
If the person has represented to others that they are responsible to the child as a parent would be,
The nature of the parent-child relationship,
The child’s relationship with their biological parent,
The length of time the person was in the child’s life,
Perspective of the child, or
Intentions that can be inferred by actions
The leading Supreme Court decision that established these factors and on this issue is Chartier v Chartier. In this case the Supreme Court found that the Divorce Act definition of loco parentis at the time did not match with the common law definition and decided that an adult cannot unilaterally sever their relationship with a child once they’re found be standing in the place of a parent. In this case the Supreme Court stated that if a person is standing in the place of a parent, they must pay child support for the child until they are no longer a child of the marriage. The Supreme Court made it clear in this decision that the parent-child relationship should be looked as it was during the marriage and once this relationship exists it cannot be unilaterally severed.
Each situation is unique, and the Courts will examine the above factors to determine if a parent-child relationship was established during the period a couple cohabited. Once the Courts find that this relationship exists, the adult cannot sever it and they may be required to pay child support.
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