Articles Posted in Step Parents

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stepparent rightsThough I never adopted the children, now that we are divorcing do I have any stepparent rights? Let us say you have spent a fair amount of time helping to raise the children that your spouse brought to the marriage, but you, for whatever reason, never took steps to adopt those children. Although you have deep attachments to the kids, you and your spouse are ready to call it quits. The biggest thing standing in the way is the kids: Will you ever be able to see them after a divorce if you have no legal claim to them? This, and other questions you may have, can be answered by a knowledgeable, local divorce attorney.

Stepparent Rights – California Code on Visitation

The laws (Family Code 3011) regarding children of divorce are quite clear: The court must make decisions based on the best interests of the kids. That means it is totally possible for a stepparent to have reasonable visitation granted. The key word is possible.

What Could Get in the Way of Court-Ordered Visitation for a Stepparent?

To be clear, determining what is best for a child is no small matter. Your past and present behavior will have a significant impact on a judge’s decision. Some questions that might be considered include:

  • Do you have a history of domestic violence?
  • Do you now, or have you ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol?
  • What was the nature of your role with the children in the past, and how what would you like to see happen in the future?
  • If the children are old enough, what are their wishes with regard to you?
  • Does the children’s biological parent support the idea of visitation rights for the stepparent?
  • Do you have a volatile relationship with your spouse at this time?
  • Are there other issues that might get the attention of the judge in a negative way?
  • Do you have a good reputation in the community, and have people willing to testify to your character, attachment to the children, and fitness as a stepparent?

Benefits to Visitation

In many circumstances, stepparent visitation can be extremely beneficial for children:

  • It can help lessen the strain of a major life change for youngsters;
  • It can validate that children are still loved and are not responsible for the breakup;
  • It can be a logistical help in terms of child pick-ups and drop-offs for school, activities, appointments, etc.;
  • It is a way to demonstrate that when adults disagree they can nonetheless behave in a civil manner.

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stepchildrenIf divorce is not complicated enough, consider a divorce that takes beloved stepchildren out of one’s life. Stepfamilies face all the same challenges that other families do, making the possibility of divorce a reality for many. Navigating the fallout of a divorce that involves stepchildren may be eased with the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney.

What Impacts Views of Stepchildren Toward Former Stepparents?

Naturally, the age of the children and the duration of the marriage will have a major impact on how stepchildren view a stepparent. One study that looked at stepchildren’s attitudes toward their former stepparents found that certain factors had a large impact on those attitudes:

  • How family members reacted to the divorce itself;
  • Configurations of support and resources during the marriage;
  • Biological parent’s attitudes regarding the stepchild/stepparent relationship;
  • Attitudes of stepchildren regarding who constitutes family for them.

The idea of kinship is crucial in relationships that continue following a divorce. Children who consider a stepparent as family are much more likely to maintain a relationship with that stepparent into adulthood. Because biological and legal ties do not bind these connections, it is up to the individuals involved to create a climate conducive to healthy relations if it is in the best interests of the children.

Best Interests of the Stepchildren

Some parents may wish to wash their hands of their former spouse altogether and resist allowing, let along promoting, a stepchild/stepparent relationship. It is advised that parents use caution as they make decisions in this area. It is important to remember that the length of the marriage may be but a blip in the adults’ lives, while it represents a large portion of a child’s life. The attachments formed over that time may be deep and meaningful. Facilitating a relationship may be an important gift to a child who is already struggling with the loss of routine and normalcy that once defined life for them. Always, always, consider the well-being of children while proceeding with a divorce!

Stepparents Who are Denied Access to Stepchildren

If you are the brokenhearted stepparent who has been exiled from stepchildren, there are a couple of options you could consider:

  • Discuss the circumstances with your attorney to determine if he or she can make a persuasive case for legal access to the kids. In some limited situations, it may be possible;
  • Contemplate discussing the situation with the children’s other biological parent. It is possible you may have an ally there who would share custodial visits with you;
  • Consider approaching grandparents or other individuals close to your ex who might see the value of your maintaining a relationship with the children. Maybe a gentle nudge from an trusted voice could influence your former spouse to rethink harsh positions.

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step parenty rightsStep parent rights. Many families today are bit less traditional than they were a few decades ago. It is not uncommon for parents to remain unmarried while raising their children or for divorced individuals to remarry and blend two families. Biological and step-parents usually share the daily responsibilities for raising the kids, including changing diapers, helping with homework, attending ballet recitals, and enforcing the rules. But under California law, biological and step-parents do not share the same rights, no matter the arrangement at home.

Step Parent Rights During the Marriage

Unless a court grants step parent rights to custody or they legally adopt the children, step-parents have few rights regarding their step-children. Biological parents retain all physical and legal custody of the children. In reality, families often include step-parents in the decision or rulemaking processes, but legally, biological parents have the final say.

What are step parent rights if the step-parent and biological parent divorce? There may be cases in which a court grants a step-parent custody or visitation but the step-parent must motion the court for custody or visitation. In other situations, the biological and step-parents create a parenting agreement outside of court, which includes visitation for the step-parent.

Step Parent Visitation Following a Divorce

Under California law, a court can grant a step-parent visitation rights if it is determined to be in the best interest of the children. However, this visitation cannot conflict with a biological parent’s right to custody or visitation.

A court may find it pulls children in too many directions to have visitation with two people, or to live under a joint custody schedule and have visitation with a third adult. However, if no other biological parent has joint custody or visitation, a step-parent with a strong bond with the children may be able to prove visitation is best.

Step Parent Custody Following a Divorce

There are certain circumstances in which a step-parent can gain custody following a divorce. First, if the step-parent legally adopted the child, he or she retains the right to legal and physical custody whether or not he or she is married to the biological parent.

If the children were physically or severely emotionally abused by the biological parent or if the biological parent abused drugs or alcohol – and the other biological parent is not available – a step-parent could potentially gain custody. This is a narrow and rare situation.

Legal Guardianship

If neither biological parent is able to take care of the children due to death or the court taking away parental rights, a step-parent can petition for legal guardianship of the children.

Ultimately, the court will implement a custody and visitation arrangement that is best for the children – not any of the parents. If step-parents want to remain involved in their stepchildren’s lives, it is best to work out an arrangement with the biological parents. Continue reading →

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