Stepparents often play a crucial role in raising children and form strong bonds with them, but unless they have legally adopted a child, they likely have no legal right to make decisions on the child’s behalf.
However, if a child’s parent and stepparent get divorced, 23 states now have laws authorizing stepparent visitation. Ten of those states expressly name stepparents as having the right to request
visitation, 13 other states, such as Texas, list stepparents as “interested third parties,” and five others, including California, allow stepparents to petition for visitation. Alabama, Florida, Iowa, and South Dakota, do not recognize any visitation rights for stepparents. In North Dakota, non-parental visitation requires exceptional circumstances, such as a long-standing relationship between the child and the stepparent or a stepparent who is a psychological parent to the child.
Best Interests of the Child
Although the rules vary according to state, where stepparent visitation is recognized, a court can grant a stepparent visitation if it is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
To determine what might is in the best interests of a child, a court will consider a variety of factors, such as:
- The stepparent’s degree of personal involvement in the child’s life.
- The length of time that the stepparent has filled the role of the child’s natural parent.
- The degree of emotional attachment that the child and the stepparent share.
- The amount of financial support that the stepparent has provided to the child.
- How much detriment, if any, the child will suffer if visitation rights with the stepparent are not granted.
The detriment factor is very important in situations where a birth parent is not in favor of a stepparent’s visitation request, and in most cases, the court will show preference to the natural parents’ wishes.
If you have questions regarding stepparent visitation rights, contact an experienced family law attorney at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys online or call 701-235-8000 (toll-free 877-235-8000) today.
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