Custody rights of non-parents are limited in Massachusetts

A child is raised for years by his father and by the father’s girlfriend, who is not the child’s mother but who acts in every way as his mother. When the couple split up, who should get custody?

Now assume that the father is a “good enough” parent, but the girlfriend is a better parent and the child would be much better off with the girlfriend. Who should get custody?

The father should still get custody, even in that situation, says the Massachusetts high court.

Unless a biological parent is truly unfit to raise a child, the biological parent is always entitled to custody even if the other person would be a “better” parent, the court said.

The girlfriend had claimed that the child’s best interests should be the deciding factor, but the court said this wasn’t true, and being the biological parent is the trump card.

The case raises interesting questions for custody cases involving grandparents who care for their grandchildren, gay couples who raise children, and other situations.