Going through a divorce when children are involved can be difficult regardless of the precise circumstances. However, matters can become even more complicated when one party to the divorce is the child’s stepparent.
Blended families have become quite common in the United States. In fact, according to 2021 data from the United States Census Bureau, approximately 2.5 million children lived in the same household as a stepparent. The relationship between a child and their stepparent can be just as meaningful and filled with love as one between a child and their biological parent. Thus, it’s not surprising that many have questions about whether they can seek some form of child custody of a stepchild during a California divorce.
If you are going through a divorce but wish to retain some relationship with your stepchild, know that you may have certain rights. Use our guide below to learn more about stepchild custody and visitation rights in California and how the family law attorneys at Pakpour Banks LLP can help you move forward today. Contact us today to speak with a California child custody lawyer!
Stepchild Custody and Visitation Rights
When it comes to the custody of minor children, California Family Code section 3101(d) defines a “stepparent” as “a person who is a party to the marriage that is the subject of the proceeding, with respect to a minor child of the other party to the marriage.”
In most cases, stepparents do not have any right to seek custody of their stepchild during the divorce proceeding with the child’s birth parent. Although stepparents do not have the same legal rights as biological parents, California law does recognize the importance of a child’s relationship with their stepparent. Thus, in certain situations, courts may allow reasonable visitation between the child and their stepparent.
Notably, however, a court will not order visitation to a stepparent if it would conflict with the custody or visitation rights of a birth parent who is not a party to the present divorce proceedings. Even if your current spouse from whom you are seeking a divorce, agrees to your visitation with your stepchild, the custody and visitation rights of the child’s other biological parent may also need to be considered.
The Best Interest of the Child Standard
Sometimes, the child’s birth parent and stepparent may mutually agree to allow visitation between the child and stepparent. If this is not the case, however, the stepparent must instead seek visitation from the court.
California Family Code section 3101(a) specifies that a court may grant reasonable visitation to a stepparent only if it determines that doing so is in the best interest of the child. In assessing whether granting visitation to a stepparent is, in fact, in the child’s best interest, California courts will consider various factors, including:
- Health, safety, and welfare of the child;
- Age of the child;
- Child’s relationship with the stepparent;
- Length and stability of the child’s relationship with the stepparent;
- Child’s relationship with the birth parent;
- Existence of any step-sibling relationships;
- Existence of any history of abuse or neglect; and
- Child’s wishes.
It’s important to remember that no matter how close the child’s relationship is to the stepparent, California law does not grant any automatic visitation rights to stepparents. Thus, any visitation determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Other Potential Stepparent Rights
Depending on the circumstances, a stepparent may sometimes wish to seek more than just visitation with their stepchild. For example, suppose the stepparent believes that the child’s safety will be jeopardized after the divorce because their birth parent is unfit to care for the child. In that case, the stepparent may pursue guardianship or even adoption of the child.
Notably, however, guardianship or custody of a stepchild is rare and will frequently require long, contentious, and complex legal processes. Speak with one of our attorneys to discuss your rights and see whether these options may be available to you.
Pakpour Banks LLP: Your Trusted California Family Law Attorneys
At Pakpour Banks LLP, we recognize the significance of the stepparent-stepchild relationship and understand the importance of preserving that relationship, even amid a divorce. Thus, the end of the marriage to your spouse does not have to mean the end of your relationship with your stepchild from that same marriage.
If you have questions about your rights as a stepparent, we want to help. Attorneys Brian Pakpour and Keith Banks merged their practices in 2019 to provide customized, cost-effective legal representation to our clients in need. Call us to discuss your case and see how we can fight for your rights today.
Do Stepparents Have the Same Rights as Biological Parents with Respect to Stepchild Custody During a Divorce?
Generally speaking, no. By default, stepparents do not have the same rights as a biological parent during a divorce. This is because California family law prioritizes the rights and responsibilities of biological parents in custody-related matters over a child. Nevertheless, stepparents do have certain rights they may pursue when it comes to a stepchild, even if they are going through divorce proceedings with the child’s biological parent.
What Rights to My Stepchild Do I Have When Divorcing in California?
As a stepparent, although you may not have any default rights to your stepchild, you may still be able to pursue visitation rights in certain situations. Ultimately, however, the court will not grant visitation to a stepparent unless it determines that doing so is in the child’s best interest. Additionally, in rare circumstances, a stepparent may be able to seek adoption of their stepchild through formal adoption proceedings.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Obtain Child Custody of a Stepchild During a California Divorce?
No, you do not need to hire a lawyer to seek or obtain child custody of a stepchild during a divorce. Even though hiring an attorney is not a legal requirement, doing so is strongly recommended to better understand and protect your rights and interests in contested or especially complex situations.