These days, a large percentage of the U.S. population is made up of blended families. It is not uncommon for stepparents to play critical roles in the lives of stepchildren. Sometimes, stepparents are the ones to raise their stepchildren. Sometimes, they’re the only mom or dad a child knows because the biological parent is absent or completely out of the picture.
The brings us to the issue of divorce. When a stepparent divorces, what rights does he or she have in regards to child custody and visitation? It depends on various factors; for example, if a stepparent legally adopted their stepson or stepdaughter, they would be considered the child’s legal mother or father; therefore, they would have the same rights as a biological parent.
On the other hand, if the stepparent never adopted the child (because they never got around to it or because the biological mother or father wouldn’t permit it), Section 3101 of the Family Code would dictate what happens next. Even if the stepparent raised the child since he or she was an infant, Sec. 3101 would still govern the stepparent’s rights.
Section 3101 of the Family Code
Under Section 3101(a) it reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court may grant reasonable visitation to a stepparent, if visitation by the stepparent is determined to be in the best interests of the minor child.” In light of that, here are some examples of where this law could apply:
- A stepmother has been raising her three-year-old stepchild since he was a month old. As a stay-at-home mom, the child has become very attached to her.
- A stepfather has raised his 16-year-old stepson as his own since the boy was two-years-old. As a part of the divorce, he’s asking for weekend visits until his stepson reaches the age of 18.
- A stepmother has spent eight years raising her 12-year-old stepdaughter and the two are very close. She wishes to ask the court for visitation so that bond is not destroyed by the divorce.
Related: Co-Parenting Tips for Divorcing Parents
Note: Under Section 3101(c) of the Family Code, it clearly states that a stepparent may not be awarded visitation rights if it would conflict with the custody and visitation rights of a birth parent who is not a part of the proceeding.
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