When you seek a divorce from your former spouse, you will have to discuss the custody and visitation rights you have to your own children. If the children your spouse has are not your biological children, you may wonder if you could gain visitation rights to them as well. California state law establishes visitation rights for step parents under certain circumstances.
Do You Have Legal Rights as a Step Parent?
When you marry someone who has children from a previous relationship, you may assume some of the responsibilities and privileges of being a parent. You spend time with the children, cook them meals, drive them to school and appointments, and enjoy being a family together. However, you only assume these responsibilities because you are married to their biological parent – not because you have a legal right to these children.
Unfortunately, step parents do not have any legal rights to their stepchildren, even if you consider them to be your own children. Unless you legally adopted these children as your own, you cannot lay claim to them during your divorce proceedings. Because you have no legal rights, you do not automatically receive visitation or custody rights. You cannot make legal or medical decisions for any of your former spouse’s children, even if it is in the best interests of the children.
Step Parent Visitation Rights in California
However, not automatically having the same legal rights to your stepchildren as a biological parent does not mean that you cannot receive visitation rights. In the state of California, the court may grant you reasonable visitation rights if it determines that your visitation would further your stepchildren’s best interests.
Another factor you must remember when obtaining visitation rights to your stepchildren is that your rights come second to the rights of the biological parents. The biological parents will always come first, since they have legal rights to the children. As a result, your visitation rights may come with quite a few limits and stipulations.
Family courts in California favor frequent and continuing contact with biological parents over step parents. If both of the biological parents of your stepchildren are able and willing to provide care to the children, obtaining visitation rights as a step parent can be a challenge. In addition, you have the burden of proving that your visitation rights are in the best interest of the children’s welfare and a lack of visitation would be detrimental to their welfare.
What Happens If the Biological Parents Reject Visitation From the Step Parent?
You may worry that the biological parents may order you to stop seeing your stepchildren after the divorce, even if you have visitation rights. Since they do have legal rights, biological parents can object to visitation and stop you from seeing your stepchildren. You can only go against the wishes of the biological parents in unusual and extreme cases. You must show through clear and convincing evidence that your visitation is in the children’s best interests and denying them your visitation would lead to detrimental consequences.
Why You Need an Attorney for Your Step Parent Visitation Case
Because you have to prove that your visitation rights are in the best interest of your child, the burden of proof in your visitation case rests solely on you. Proving this factor requires a strong knowledge of California family law and access to resources to craft a strong case. For best results in your step parent visitation case, hire a California divorce attorney to represent you. Your attorney can conduct comprehensive investigations, guide you through the family court process, and help you meet the definition of being in the best interest of your stepchildren.
If you have stepchildren who you love and are close to, losing them in the divorce can be emotionally difficult. Protect your visitation rights by hiring a California divorce attorney to represent your interests. Your attorney can enter your divorce negotiations and advocate for visitation rights on your behalf.