When a child’s natural parent and stepparent divorce, battles regarding custody and visitation may arise. Many stepparents often fear they will lose their relationship and time with their stepchild, and their ability to obtain rights may vary depending on the state’s subjective laws.
In many instances, stepparents may not have legal rights to visitation of their stepchild if the biological parent does not consent. A child’s natural parents are presumed to be the most fitting to make decisions regarding the care of their children. However, exceptions can arise. Although child visitation can become complicated when a parent and a stepparent divorce, a court may award a stepparent the right to child visitation. For example, stepparents who have had an ongoing and substantial part of the child’s life since birth, and/or who have been involved in the raising of that child for many years, have a greater chance of being an exception to the parental preference rule and are more likely to petition for and gain visitation or custody rights.
Out of the 50 states, many although not the majority, allow a stepparent to have visitation with their stepchild. The standard criteria the court must surround its decision with lies in the best interest of the child. Most child welfare, adoption, guardianship and stepparent custody and visitation decisions are based on the best interest standard, and the judge will weigh many factors when making his or her decision accordingly.
There are twenty-three states in the United States that legally authorize stepparent visitation. Ten of these states, including California, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin explicitly name the stepparents as having the right to request visitation. Circumstances may arise where the biological parent is no longer available, unfit or alive and cannot adequately care for the child. Although the court would most likely defer to the other natural parent, a stepparent may appeal in the instance that the other biological parent may also not be alive, available or able to care properly for their child.
In these and other circumstances, the court may award custody or visitation rights to the stepparent. In a divorce of a stepparent and the custodial parent, the stepparent may be granted custody when the facts demonstrate that the child “would not benefit from being the custody of the natural parent.” In following the “best interests of the child” the court may decide that the child’s best interest is served by remaining with the his or her biological parents. However, stepparents rights to visitation and custody will be examined if the child would benefit from remaining in the care of the stepparent. A plethora of factors, including the child’s physical, emotional, financial, moral/religious, and psychological well-being are carefully considered and weighed.
How an Experienced Kansas Family Attorney Can Help Stepparents
Call McDowell Chartered Legal Services today at (316) 633-4322 to see how we can assist you with your Kansas stepparent and child visitation matter today. Contact Kansas Family Law Attorney Tom Mcdowell now to learn more about your legal rights and options.