Step Parent Rights: What Are My Visitation Rights as a Step Parent?

If you are a step parent, you may be wondering what your rights are when it comes to visiting your step child. Historically, step parents have held very few rights concerning their spouse’s children. However, that began to change after 2000, when most states passed legislation that broadened step parent rights, including visitation rights. While these rights vary by state, they are more or less based on the child’s relationship to the step parent and biological parents.

Step parent visitation cases can be complex, and often require the help of an experienced Fresno family law attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks today for a consultation.

Who Qualifies as a Step Parent?

Under California law, a step parent is defined as someone who is legally married to the biological parent of a child. So if you are not legally married, you do not have step parent rights and cannot request the court for visitation rights.

Rights of Step Parents Who Haven’t Adopted Their Children Yet

In regards to child custody, the law protects biological parents rights to physical and legal custody above all else. Which means that if you’re a step parent who has yet to adopt your step child, then legally you have no standing to make important decisions on your child’s behalf.

However, many states had adopted legislation that grants step parents visitation rights similar to the rights grandparents hold. This is because the court recognizes that suddenly ending the relationship between a child and an important adult in their life can be quite harmful.

What Happens If the Child’s Biological Parent Passes Away?

In the event that a child’s biological parent passes away, then custody of said child will typically revert back to the non-custodial parent. That is unless a step parent formally adopts their step child beforehand. Some states allow step parents to petition for custody of a child after the death of a biological parent. This is especially true if the child continues to live with the step parent after the nature parent passes away. Ultimately, the court will look towards what serves in the child’s best interest when deciding custody.

Step Parents and the Best Interests of a Child

The court will always rule in decisions that serve in a child’s best interests. When evaluating a step parent’s visitation rights, or just awarding step parent rights in general, the court must determine if doing so will positively affect a child’s life. Here are some factors the court considers when determining these rights:

  • A biological parent’s ability to care for the child
  • The emotional relationship between a step parent and step child
  • If there is any history of abuse from a biological parent
  • The current age of the child
  • How much time a step parent spends with their step child

If you as the step parent has served as a permanent parental figure to your step child, then the court will most likely grant you visitation rights.

How Step Parents Can Request Visitation Rights

In California, you must file a step parent visitation petition with a family law court. Filing such a petition typically opens a new case that involves you as the step parent and the biological parents as different parties. However, if there is already an ongoing custody case between both biological parents, then you will need to join as party on that case.

Are Step Parents Required to Pay Child Support?

Common law states that step parents do not hold any legal obligation to support a step child financially. However, that is not true if a step parent:

  • Chooses to act “in loco parentis”, or
  • Voluntarily takes on responsibilities and functions as a parent.

Similarly, the “estoppel doctrine” prevents a step parent from going back on any promises if doing should would financially harm a child. Again though, this doctrine only takes effect if a step parent assumes the role of a child’s parent and causes that child to rely on them financially. If the step parent meets these such conditions, then the court will require them pay child support.

Speak to a Fresno CA Step Parent Rights Lawyer

Our seasoned legal team understands the frustration step parents experience when trying to obtain visitation rights. Contact the Law Offices of Rick D. Banks today to speak to a step parent rights lawyer who can help.