As we've learned from Hollywood families, stepparents often have a hand in raising children and form meaningful bonds with them. That's why when a child's parent and stepparent get a divorce, many states allow stepparents to petition for visitation rights.
In states that recognize stepparent visitation rights, courts will generally show preference to the birth parents' wishes. But they can also take a variety of factors into account.
Several states like California expressly grant stepparents the right to seek visitation. Other states like Texas categorize stepparents as "interested third parties," and allow them to request visitation.
In the absence of statutes on the subject, some courts have held that stepparents can still petition for visitation. But a handful of states, like Florida, don't recognize any visitation rights for stepparents.
Though the rules vary state by state, in places that recognize stepparent visitation, a court can grant a stepparent visitation if it's in the best interests of the child.
To figure out the best interests of a child, a court will consider a host of factors that include:
- Personal involvement. How involved is the stepparent in the child's life?
- Length of relationship in parental role. How long has the stepparent filled the role of the child's natural parent?
- The emotional relationship. How close are the stepparent and child to each other?
- Financial contributions. How much financial support has the stepparent provided to the child?
- Potential detriment to the child. How much harm, if any, will the child suffer if visitation rights aren't granted?
But since the sage rule in family law is the best interests of the child, a stepparent can try to overcome that parental preference by showing the court that denying visitation rights will be detrimental to the child. An experienced family law attorney can help figure out the best way to proceed in your particular case.