Legal Rights of Stepparents in California

Many parents who separate eventually remarry, establishing legal rights of stepparents who are in the lives of their children. In fact, according to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, as many as 20% of children have at least one stepparent. When stepparents are involved in the lives of children, they often seek legal rights that are similar to those of biological parents. If you have questions about your legal rights as a stepparent, experienced family law attorneys at The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks can help.

Who Is a Stepparent?

Legal rights of stepparents are only available to people who have entered into a legal marriage that is recognized by California. If you were never legally married to a child’s biological parent, then you may not have any legal rights in California.

A stepparent may also be an adoptive parent. Adoptive parents have all the same rights and responsibilities to children as biological parents. If you are interested in gaining legal rights of stepparents through an adoption, seek the assistance of a skilled lawyer. We can help you with all issues involving stepparent rights.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Stepparents

Legal rights of stepparents may mirror those of biological parents; however, stepparents’ rights do not typically challenge those of biological parents. That is, a stepparent who plays a vital role in the life of a child may gain custody or visitation rights. However, a stepparent can only rarely intervene in the rights of a biological parent.

In addition to legal rights, stepparents may also have responsibilities to their stepchildren. Those responsibilities may be voluntarily sought by stepparents who willingly step into the lives of children. The court will rarely impose legal responsibilities on a stepparent unless they have been elected by the stepparent.

Some responsibilities and legal rights of stepparents include:

Stepparent Visitation

Under California Family Code 3100, a court may grant a third party, including a stepparent, grandparent, or other person, who has an interest in the welfare of the child, visitation rights. When considering stepparent visitation rights after a divorce, the court would consider the extent of the role and the length of time the stepparent was in the life of the child.

Stepchild Custody

If a stepparent seeks custody of a child, the court will consider whether the biological parents are still able to participate in the child’s life. In general, the court will give primary custody to biological parents. However, if biological parents both pass away or are unable to care for the child due to drug abuse, mental illness, or another reason, then a stepparent may gain primary custody.

Stepchild Support

There are no statutes in California that impose stepparent child support, even if stepparent visitation has been ordered. However, many other states do allow for stepchild support in certain circumstances. If a stepparent gains custody of a stepchild, it may be possible to seek child support from a biological parent.

Inheritance

Under the law, stepchildren have no right to their stepparents’ estates. That is, unless they are named in a will or they were legally adopted. It is important to deal with estate planning issues so that stepchildren are included in inheritance.

Stepparents Acting “in Loco Parentis”

When a stepparent takes on the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent, they are acting “in loco parentis.” In loco parentis is a Latin term that describes a third party who steps into the place of a parent and functions as a biological parent. You may be seeking to take on the legal rights of stepparents. Courts may consider a stepparent to be acting in loco parentis if:

  • There is a strong bond between the stepparent and stepchild;
  • You intend to assume parental status over your stepchild;
  • You take on the duties of a biological parent;
  • The stepparent is the only parent the child has ever known; and
  • One or both biological parents are absent.

A stepparent who is acting in loco parents may have similar legal rights and responsibilities under the law as a biological parent. If you are seeking legal rights of stepparents and hope to act in loco parentis to your stepchildren, you should seek the legal assistance of a skilled attorney.

We Can Help You Obtain Legal Rights of Stepparents

At the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks, we understand that stepparents often play a vital role in the lives of stepchildren. When a biological parent and stepparent separate, the stepparent may consider seeking custody of visitation rights. Stepparents may also step in to function as a parent in circumstances where biological parents are unable to care for children. We can help you seek legal rights of stepparents in California. Call attorney Rick D. Banks today at (559) 222-4891.