Oftentimes, one partner in a marriage will have children from a previous relationship. When the two partners are married, the stepparent becomes an integral part of the children’s lives. Oftentimes, the children may view the stepparent with exactly the same frame of mind as they view their biological parent(s). And, in turn, the stepparent considers their stepchildren to be their own. But what happens if the two partners divorce? Can the stepparent receive visitation rights, even though the children are not biologically theirs? Keep reading to learn more.
Do Stepparents Have Visitation Rights?
The answer to this question can depend on the state in which you are filing for divorce. However, in most cases, stepparents have a steep uphill battle in retaining visitation rights for their step children. In most states and courts, the biological parent is considered the best-suited individual to make decisions regarding who their children spend time with.
Known as the parental preference rule, or the doctrine of parental rights, this standard can make it extremely difficult for any non-parent figure (including stepparents, grandparents, etc.) to retain visitation rights if the biological parent refuses.
Exceptions to the Standard
Of course, as with any standard, there are exceptions to the parental preference rule. If the stepparent has been a part of the child’s life from a very young age, or they have been involved in the child’s upbringing for many years, they are more likely to receive visitation and even custody rights. The stepparent’s odds of receiving visitation are also higher if they were married to the biological parent for an extended period of time.
Your role in the child’s life may also impact your likelihood of receiving visitation. For example, if you were the child’s primary caretaker for many years, you may be more successful when trying to retain visitation rights.
Best Interests of the Child
While the parental preference rule is applied in most situations regarding custody and visitation rights of a stepparent, this standard can be overruled by a more important standard—upholding the best interests of the child. This is generally the primary rule in cases regarding child custody rights and visitation, and every court should consider what best serves the interests of the child when making such decisions.
In the majority of cases, a court will usually determine that staying with the biological parent is in the child’s best interests. However, if a court determines that the child’s wellbeing will be severely and negatively impacted by being unable to see the stepparent, the court may grant visitation or even partial custody rights to the stepparent. In cases with serious extenuating circumstances, such as when the biological parent is deemed unfit, full custody can sometimes be granted to a stepparent.
When the Biological Parent Is Deceased
If a child’s biological parent passes, a stepparent’s visitation rights can change significantly. In cases where the biological parent of the child has passed away, a stepparent can petition for visitation if the following are true:
Again, these are all general guidelines followed by courts. However, every case is different and will be examined carefully by a judge before making a determination regarding visitation or custody.
If you’re a stepparent going through a divorce, and you’re worried about seeing your stepchildren again after the divorce is finalized, you need to seek the aid of a professional child custody lawyer. As we’ve already mentioned, stepparents are frequently at a disadvantage in these cases, and you need someone in your corner who can work all possible angles and improve your odds of having visitation rights approved.
At Harr Law, we understand that the relationships between stepparents and their stepchildren can be just as powerful as the ones between biological parents and their children. We want to help you protect that relationship as much as we possibly can. Please reach out to us today and schedule a consultation so that we can begin working on your case. We’ll be with you through every step of the divorce process, and will do everything in our power to secure visitation rights so that you can continue to see your stepchildren in the future.