Can an Ex-Step-parent Get Visitation in California?

Can an Ex-Step-parent Get Visitation in California?

Stepparents can be an essential part of a child’s life. These individuals often provide caregiving and can form their own unique bond with their stepchildren. When a parent and stepparent divorce, it can raise questions about the children’s future connection with their parent’s former spouse. If you are a parent or stepparent, you may be wondering: Can a stepparent get visitation in California?

California Step-parent Visitation

When stepparents and stepchildren share a home, they can form meaningful relationships. This can be especially true when the child’s parent has been married to the stepparent for several years.

California law recognizes the importance of children having certain non-parental relationships. Under the law, the court has the discretion to grant reasonable visitation rights to “any other person having an interest in the welfare of the child.” This includes stepparents. However, to have standing to request visitation, the former stepparent must be able to show:

  • That they were legally married to the parent, and that
  • It is in the child’s best interest for them to be granted visitation rights.

The law defines a “Stepparent” as” a person who is a party to the marriage that is the subject of the proceeding, with respect to a minor child of the other party to the marriage.”

The court may grant visitation rights to a stepparent if visitation by the stepparent is determined to be in the child’s best interest. However, the court will not grant stepparent visitation rights that would conflict with a right of custody or visitation of a birth parent who is not a party to the proceeding.

Best Interest of the Child and Stepparent Visitation

The court will examine numerous aspects of the stepchild/stepparent relationship to determine whether visitation is in the child’s best interest. Some of the factors the court may consider:

  • the biological parents’ involvement with and ability to care for the child,
  • the bond the stepparent shares with the child,
  • the child’s preference,
  • the child’s age and emotional maturity,
  • whether there is a history of domestic violence by the parents or stepparent,
  • the child’s physical and emotional health and well-being, and
  • Any other relevant information

Stepparent Visitation and In Loco Parentis

When considering stepparent visitation, the court may also use the doctrine of “in loco parentis.” This doctrine, which essentially means “in the place of the parent,” can be used by the court to evaluate the stepchild’s and stepparent’s bond. In loco parentis is ordinarily used when a stepparent is seeking to take on parental responsibilities for the child and has performed these duties in the past. Often, this will be a factor when the stepparent has been serving in the parenting role because one or both parents were absent. However, if both parents are involved with their child, it’s less likely that in loco parentis will be a factor.

Generally, the court prefers parents to make decisions about who their child sees. However, the law recognizes that certain other adult relationships may be important and beneficial to a child. Still, it can be complicated when a child’s connection to the adult is through their parent’s former marital relationship.

You may have heard the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Depending on your perspective, you may or may not want your former spouse as part of your child’s village. On the other hand, if you are a stepparent with a significant bond with a stepchild, it may be in the child’s best interests to continue having you in their life. In either situation, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney. You and your California family law attorney can help you review your circumstances and evaluate your options.

Contact a California Child Custody Attorney

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced family law and child custody attorneys who can help you evaluate stepparent visitation and review your options. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.