Stepparent Visitation Rights

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Stepparent Visitation Rights

When a child’s biological parents divorce, the child goes through a very stressful and confusing time. The child may adjust poorly to the changes. However, a stepparent can help the child adjust to divorce by providing a loving and supportive relationship. Many stepchildren see their stepparents as their own parents and will lovingly refer to them as "Mom" or "Dad."

However, after building this strong relationship, the stepparent and stepchild may be separated if the biological parent and stepchild divorce.

Do I Have Legal Rights as a Stepparent?

When you are still married to the biological parent, you may enjoy many of the privileges of parenting, including spending time with the children, cooking for them, driving them to school, and taking them to doctors’ appointments. However, you only enjoy these privileges by virtue of being married to the biological parent. You in fact do not have any legal rights to the children.

When you divorce the biological parent, because you have no legal rights, you are not entitled to anything. You are not entitled to visitation. You are not entitled to custody. You are not entitled to make legal or medical decisions on behalf of the child, even if you believe it is in the best interests of the child.

Do Stepparents Have Visitation Rights?

In Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), a U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court held that the biological parent has a fundamental and constitutional right to parenting. This includes controlling the child, deciding custody issues, and dictating visitation schedules. The stepparent does not have any rights if and when the biological parent objects.

In Troxel, the stepparent grew close with the stepchildren during the marriage. When the stepparent and biological parent divorced, they agreed on a visitation schedule for the stepparent. The stepparent desired more visitation, but the biological parent said no. The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the biological parent.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision is binding on all federal and state courts. While the Troxel case may sound disparaging, the biological parent and stepparent can agree to a visitation schedule.

What Is a Child Visitation Agreement?

A child visitation agreement is an agreement signed by both parties that outlines the visitation schedule of the biological parent and stepparent. The child visitation agreement may cover:

Do I Need a Lawyer to Enforce Visitation?

While a stepparent who has not legally adopted the stepchildren has no legal rights to visitation, a family law attorney can help you negotiate visitation rights with a biological parent. A family law attorney will have years of expertise drafting child visitation agreements and can help you enforce the child visitation agreement if the biological parent violates it.

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Last Modified: 04-24-2015 09:39 AM PDT

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