Virginia’s laws are full of odd expressions: in loco parentis; legitimate interest; confirmatory adoption. Sure, they all mean something to someone, but most Virginians can live their entire lives without ever stumbling into these words. Unless you are a stepfather or a nice guy trying to do right by a woman you love by acting like a father to her kids.
In Loco Parentis
A Latin phrase, in loco parentis, means “in the place of the parent.” It sums up the legal notion that some people, by virtue of their professions or, uh, their virtue, take on the roles of parents.
The responsibility is more pervasive and meaningful than being a chaperone on a day-long school field trip. The adult acting as a parent has some authority over finances, physical care, and day-to-day control of the child. Examples of adults who act in loco parentis include:
- Public school teachers
- Group leaders of children’s religious, social, or extracurricular groups
- Social workers
- Law enforcement officers who supervise children in settings outside the home
- School counselors and administrators
- Virtuous almost-fathers who work with the women they love to raise children they did not sire
Say you helped raise the children of the love of your life. Not your children, her children, by a different man. That’s noble of you. You clearly have acted in loco parentis, so does that win you anything?
Do you have any rights?
You’re just being a genuinely nice guy to those kids without any legal connection — rights or responsibilities — to them at all. You are a pseudofather, a word we just made up. You are a nonentity in the eyes of Virginia law.
You and the love of your life can even marry, and the children will still not be yours.
Unless you legally adopt her children as your own under Code of Virginia § 63.2-1241. Before we move ahead here, we need to warn you: Virginia’s noble legislators never attempt to write eye-catching titles for their laws. No bodice-rippers, no whodunits here. This law, which provides all the legal ammunition you need to adopt children you did not sire, has a title that comes across as, well, a bit wordy:
- Adoption of Child by Spouse of Birth or Adoptive Parent or Other Person With Legitimate Interest
We know, we know; we had to lie down for a nice rest after writing that. But the law itself is your path to becoming a legally responsible father to children you helped raise, so wake up!
You have a “legitimate interest” in Virginia family law if you meet one of these criteria spelled out in Virginia Code § 20-124.1:
- “Person with a legitimate interest” shall be broadly construed and includes, but is not limited to, grandparents, step-grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents, blood relatives and family members provided any such party has intervened in the suit or is otherwise properly before the court. The term shall be broadly construed to accommodate the best interest of the child.
Ah, those crafty Virginia legislators! They give the widest possible latitude to Virginia men so just about any good-hearted man legally can take a child under his wing. Your family law attorney can make a convincing argument that you have a legitimate interest in the children you want to adopt because you have helped raise them, even if you did not create them.
Your attorney can also apply legal pressure for the courts to pursue termination of parental rights of the biological father if he can be shown (through evidence, not hearsay) to be an absentee father. Such a motion is driven by the “best interests of the child” and is codified within the same law.
Talk about weird Virginia laws. The law that provides an avenue for you, the pseudofather, to adopt her children, appears under this full title:
- Title 63.2. Welfare (Social Services); Subtitle III. Social Services Programs; Chapter 12. Adoption; Article 4. Stepparent and Confirmatory Adoption [emphasis added]
But the law itself says nothing about “confirmatory adoption, ” a phrase that means adoption by a non-biological parent.
Confirmatory adoption is not a legal term, but the legislators never bothered to remove it from their title. They did, thoughtfully, include the phrase, “other person with legitimate interest” to confirm that you, the pseudofather, can adopt those kids.
Even though Virginia has some strange ways with words, the Commonwealth really does care about its children. You can show how much you care about the children of the love of your life by adopting them if that is an option. With this path, you gain legal rights and responsibilities. No more pseudofather labels for you!
The Firm For Men works hard every day to protect the rights of all Virginia’s men, including stepfathers, in all aspects of family law. Contact us today, or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9184, to be connected to a lawyer right away.