Divorce disrupts families in diverse and unpredictable ways. Unfortunately, those in the nuclear family aren’t the only victims of this process. Loving stepparents and grandparents often struggle to maintain and foster their relationships with stepchildren and grandchildren, and parents can create substantial obstacles for these parties in attempting to do so.
In general, parental rights and preferences supersede those of other parties. The courts can, however, grant visitation rights for grandparents and stepparents in some instances, even in the face of resistance from parents.
Visitation Rights for Grandparents
There are two main requirements that a court must find before it will grant a grandparent visitation rights with a grandchild. First, the grandparent must show that there was a pre-existing relationship with the grandchild that established a bond with the child. This means, that a grandparent who did not have a previous, meaningful relationship with a grandchild cannot successfully petition for visitation rights. The second requirement is that the court must balance the best interest of the child in having visitation with a grandparent with the rights of the parents to make decisions about their child.
A court doesn’t usually grant visitation to grandparents while the parents are still married. Exceptions include:
- One or both parents have been missing for at least a month
- The parents live separately
- One parent supports the grandparent’s request for visitation
- The child or children don’t live with either parent
- A stepparent adopted the child
Visitation Rights for Stepparents
A stepparent may have jointly raised a child and be the only mother or father the child knows. A stepparent can pursue visitation rights in order to spend time with a minor child that is not their biological child. Under California law, a “stepparent” is a person who is married to a birth parent of the child in question (although visitation rights may be sought by the stepparent as part of a divorce proceeding from the birth parent).
A court will award a stepparent visitation rights when it determines that visitation would be in the best interest of the child. In making this determination, courts are required to consider whether a protective order has ever been directed at the stepparent with respect to the child.
A stepparent’s visitation rights will also be subject to the custody and visitation rights of the birth parents, and a court will not order stepparent visitation when doing so would conflict with the custody or visitation rights of a birth parent who is not subject to the proceeding (i.e. if a stepfather is in a divorce with the mother of a child, the court will not make any order affecting the birth father’s custody or visitation rights if he is not a party to the proceeding).
As with grandparents, the court will also consider the wishes and concerns of the biological parents. It may also be difficult to obtain visitation when both biological parents are actively engaged in the child or children’s life.
Assert Yourself with the Help of an Experienced Pasadena Visitation Rights Attorney
Once you’ve bonded with a child, you ideally should be able to continue that relationship. Our experienced, compassionate family law attorneys understand how to help stepparents and grandparents who wish to maintain a relationship with children obtain visitation rights. Call us today for a free consultation.