Step 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.
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.
If you are a step-parent in Sonoma County, Mendocino County or Lake County California and worried about losing your relationship with your stepchildren, contact Beck Law P.C. right away to meet with an experienced California family law attorney.