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What Rights Do I Have as a Stepparent?


Custody & Visitation Rights of Stepparents Who Have Not Adopted Their Children

Stepparents have historically had few rights in regards to their spouse’s children. After the year 2000, however, many states began to pass legislation that recognized the role of stepparents in their stepchildren’s lives and increased their responsibilities. While laws regarding stepparent rights are different between states, these rights in many cases are based on a child’s relationship with his or her stepparent and biological parents.

As far as child custody is concerned, the law first and foremost protects the legal and physical custody rights of biological parents. Unless a stepparent has legally adopted a stepchild, they likely have no legal standing to make important decisions on the child’s behalf.

Step Parent Rights California

According to California Family Law Code §3100, stepparents can petition the court for visitation rights, if visitation is in the best interest of the child. This is because courts have realized that suddenly terminating a child’s relationship with someone that’s an important part of their life can be psychologically harmful.

What About If the Child's Biological Parent Passed Away?

In the event that a biological parent should pass away, custody of the stepchild will generally revert to the non-custodial parent unless the stepparent has formally adopted the stepchild. In some jurisdictions, however, stepparents may petition to for custody of their spouse’s child after their death, especially in situations where the child continues to live with the stepparent after the death of the natural parent. Ultimately, this decision will be made in alignment with the child’s best interests.

Do Stepparents Have to Pay Child Support?

Under common law, stepparents have no legal obligation to financially support their stepchildren except if there is a state statute which imposes such a duty or a stepparent has chosen to act “in loco parentis” of the child, meaning that the stepparent has voluntarily taken on some of the responsibilities and functions of a parent.

Similarly, there is also the “estoppel doctrine” which prevents a stepparent from taking a different position or going back on a promise if the child would be financially harmed by the change. This may only take effect if the stepparent assumes the role of the child’s parent, interferes with the child’s relationship with their biological parent, and causes the child to rely upon their financial support. If these conditions are met, a court may rule that a stepparent is responsible for paying child support.

Experienced Family Law Representation for Fresno

At Arnold Law Group, APC, our Fresno family lawyers have helped thousands of clients with their family-related issues over the past 30 years. Whether you are a stepparent looking to adopt your spouse’s child or are involved in some other sort of family issue that requires legal attention, we can provide the steadfast guidance you need to ensure your rights are protected.

Contact us online or call (559) 900-1263 today to review your legal options in detail.

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