Do Stepparents Have Visitation Rights?

Custody and visitation are often highly contested elements of divorce. Separating spouses must determine who their children will live with most of the time and work out a visitation schedule that is in the best interests of their kids.

This process is tedious when disputes arise between biological parents and can become even trickier when a stepparent is involved. State law governs a stepparent’s rights to visitation, which can be explained in detail by a local legal professional. An experienced attorney can help a stepparent understand their rights to visitation and discuss legal avenues to gaining parenting rights.

Legal Rights and Obligations of Stepparents

While married to the biological parent, a stepparent can act as a parental figure for a child, though they do not have any legal rights over the child. If a stepparent and biological parent decide to divorce, the stepparent does not automatically have any parental rights concerning the child. This includes custody, visitation, or the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child, even if it may be in the child’s best interests.

Even if a stepparent is caring for a child full-time, they might not have access to all the medical or legal information needed to care for that child. In addition, the stepparent has no automatic obligation to financially provide for a stepchild.

The Parental Preference Rule

The U.S. Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000) established the precedent that a biological parent has fundamental and constitutional rights to parenting, including the right to weigh in on visitation schedules and custody issues. If a stepparent and biological parent disagree, the decision defers to the wishes of the biological parent.

If neither biological parent is able to care for a child, and the stepparent has a close parental relationship with the child, the court may consider the stepparent as a psychological parent, who has parenting rights similar to a biological parent. In order to gain psychological parenthood, a stepparent must prove that their relationship with the child is analogous to that of their biological parent and that the absence of that relationship will harm the child’s best interests.

Adoption is another option. Adoption would make a stepparent a legal parent of the child with the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent.

Contact a Dedicated Family Lawyer Today to Discuss Stepparent Visitation Rights

A stepparent’s rights are limited unless a court deems them a psychological parent or the child is adopted. A family law attorney experienced in psychological parenthood and adoption matters can explain your rights in more detail and walk you through the process of obtaining a court order or initiating the adoption process. Reach out today to learn more about what our skilled legal team can do for you.

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