Understanding the Rights of a Step Parent in the Aftermath of a Separation

Posted By RM Law Group in Family Law
Understanding the Rights of a Step Parent in the Aftermath of a Separation

According to data reported by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, there are approximately 20% of children who have a minimum of one stepparent. In America, it is not uncommon for a parent to separate from a marriage and eventually enter into another marriage. When this happens, however, many stepparents will often seek some form of parental rights.

Many stepparents will develop a very close connection with their stepchildren. Close relationships between stepparents and children serve to reinforce strong, loving environments for the entire family. This can be especially true for children who are facing the consequence of estranged biological parents.

In every part of the nation, it's no secret that the relationship between a stepparent and stepchild is very important, and can certainly promote happy and healthy homes. Unfortunately, stepparent rights are highly limited. While a stepparent can dedicate his or her time and support to help in the upbringing of an underage child, the stepparent has the potential to lose any form of connection with the child if he or she were to separate from the child’s biological parent.

All is not lost, however - stepparents who have a desire to continue to be an essential part of their stepchildren’s lives do have the opportunity to do so if they chose to legally adopt the child. By adopting the child in question, the stepparent will be able to obtain full legal rights of the underage child.

If you or someone you know is a stepparent who wishes to have legal parental rights of a child in the aftermath of a divorce or separation, it is important to seek the legal guidance of a skillful family law attorney. An attorney who has experience in dealing with the rights of stepparents can answer all legal questions and help to guide the stepparent in the direction of obtaining legal parental rights of the child.

Who Can be a Stepparent?

In order for a stepparent to have legal rights, he or she would have to have entered into marriage or legal union that is recognized by the State of California. Parental rights for a person would otherwise be unavailable.

Stepparents can also select to adopt the child in order to obtain rights over the minor. An adoptive parent can have the same legal rights and/or responsibilities to a minor as the minor’s biological parents would.

Background: Understanding How a Divorce Can Affect the Relationship Between a Stepparent and a Stepchild

When the biological parents of a child divorce or separate, they legal dissolve their marriage. By dissolving the marriage, the legal separation does not legally interfere with the relationship of the parents and the child. When a marriage is legally dissolved, this does not dissolve the legal rights of the parents.

After a divorce, both parents will generally have equal parental rights. Under certain circumstances, a court can rule that one parent should have more parental rights than the other, as courts will largely rule in the best interest of the child.

Sadly, stepparents who become estranged from a child’s biological parent have no legal rights to a child. When a divorce or separation has ensued, it is up to the biological parent if the stepparent will be able to continue having visitation or communication privileges with the child. In many cases, even if a stepparent is better equipped to raise a child or has a closer bond with the child, he or she can still lose the right to see a child after a divorce.

Establishing Step Parent Parental Rights

Under Troxel v. Granville, the United States Supreme Court established that biological parents have the fundamental and constitutional right to decide how their children will be cared for. A biological parent, therefore, has the legal authority to decide who can have custody and visitation privileges. Under Troxel v. Granville a biological parent’s rights will overrule those of the stepparent.

As a stepparent, the adoption of the child is the key to ensuring that legal parental rights are established. When a legal adoption is pursued, the stepparent will gain seminal rights as the biological parent.

A Stepparent’s Legal Rights and Responsibilities

The legal rights of a stepparent could be very similar to those of a biological parent; however, a stepparent’s rights cannot usually challenge the rights of the biological parent. Stepparents who play vital roles in the lives of children could gain visitation or custody. Stepparents, however, can rarely interfere in the privileges of biological parents.

A stepparent can also seek to have certain responsibilities to his or her stepchild. For the most part, stepparents will willingly pursue parental responsibilities but family courts have imposed these from time to time. Stepparent legal rights and responsibilities could include the following:

Stepparent Visitations – Under the State of California Family Code Section 3100, a family court can grant a third party visitation rights to a minor. These could include stepparents, grandparents, or other party who is willing and interested in obtaining visitation rights. In many cases, primary custody will always be given to the child’s biological parents, however, a stepparent can gain primary custody if the child’s parents passed away or were unable to properly care for the minor.

Stepchild Support – In California, there are no laws that would impose a parent to pay child support, even in situations where stepparent visitation rights have been ordered.

Inheritance – Under current law, a stepchild has no legal rights to the stepparent’s estate. This however, can change if the stepchild was named in the stepparent’s will or was otherwise legally adopted by the stepparent. It is crucial to deal with estate planning matters so that a stepchild can be included in the stepparent’s inheritance.

Seek Legal Support to Obtain Legal Rights of Your Stepchild

In the course of a marriage, a stepparent can develop a very close bond with their stepchildren. Stepparents often make important decisions for the child, as well as take care of them and take on the responsibilities a biological parent is normally accountable for. When a separation ensues, many stepparents can lose the opportunity to continue a relationship with the stepchild. In these situations, consulting with the experienced California lawyers at RM Law Group, LLP can provide some direction as well as possible options to move forward in court.


About the Author:

RM Law Group


RM Law Group is a personal injury & family law firm with offices in San Bernardino and Ontario, California. We work with clients throughout the Inland Empire and Southern California.Personal InjuryAt RM Law Group, we understand that clients require the maximum available compensation to cover their medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Our auto accident attorneys will never settle for less than what you deserve, and we will never charge you a fee unless we prevail on your behalf. Injury claims are handled on a contingency fee basis, so clients pay no attorneys’ fees until RM Law Group recovers the compensation you need.Family LawFamilies that are in need of legal assistance... View full business profile here: RM Law Group





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