Bonds are often formed between stepparents and children that can often mirror the connections of a biological parent. While a stepparent may not be granted parental rights over a child, legal actions can be taken towards child custody to continue the relationship they have with the child.

What is a Stepparent?

According to California Family Code section 3101(d)(2), a stepparent is considered “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 other words, one must be married to the parent of the stepchild to have general access to the limited rights of a stepparent. If a couple were unmarried and decided to separate, the stepparent would not have the legal rights established through parentage. During the marriage to the biological parent of the child, some duties of a stepparent as the responsible adult may include:

  • Household rules and chores
  • Supporting the terms of discipline implemented by the biological parent
  • The right to inspect and review a child’s school records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which includes stepparents who are legal guardians of the child
  • Medical issues through the signed consent of the biological parent

Do Stepparents Have Legal Rights Over a Child?

Assumption of parentage is only applicable when the couple is already married at the time of the child’s birth. The role of a stepparent is typically assumed when individuals establish their relationship as a couple through marriage or legal registration. During which either or both parties have had children from their previous relationships.

Since stepparents are not the child’s legal parent, they are not entitled to any rights regarding parentage; however, there are ways to request visitations to the child through the court in some states. In California, the legal actions step parents can take in regards to custody rights to a stepchild includes:

  • Filing for visitation rights through the court under California Family Code Section 3101
  • Legal adoption of the child as long as the biological parents agree to the adoption process
  • Established legal guardianship through the court should the biological parents be deceased, disabled, or unable to care for the child
  • Family Code Section 3101(a), the Doctrine of “In Loco Parentis,” which is a special case applies when there is no one else to care for the stepchild, and the stepparent is the only parent the child has ever known

Should the stepparents become legal guardians of the child, then they are granted the rights and duties a biological parent would have. These responsibilities include care and housing for the child, financial support, and general parental duties regarding health and wellness. In situations involving a divorcing couple, the stepparent would not have legal access to the stepchild if the guardianship was never established. Divorces only apply to dissolving a marriage but do not apply to parental rights. Since parentage does not apply to stepparents, their rights are limited in making legal decisions for the child. Establishing legal guardianship is a useful way for stepparents to maintain access to a child’s life and uphold parental responsibilities.

Visitation Rights for Stepparents

California provides stepparents with the option to request visitation rights. Visitation may only be granted to a stepparent who was married to a biological parent. To exercise the visitation rights, the stepparent would file a petition with family law courts to request access to these rights. It is important to note that the stepparent’s rights are not a priority over the biological parent. Additionally, the visitation schedule is not to conflict with any visitations already set in place between the birth parents. A family lawyer is best fit to help with organizing the appropriate procedures according to the county and documents required to aid the stepparent in the legal process for visitation rights.

Under Family Code 3101, visitations for stepparents may be granted by the court if it’s considered in the child’s best interest. If both biological parents do not agree to visitations for the child, the stepparent would have to prove to the courts that separation from the child would not be in the child’s best interest. In these situations, a family lawyer can help deal with the complexity of the limited rights a stepparent has access to. Some factors in determining the best interest of the child include:

  • The emotional well-being of the child
  • The physical health of the child
  • The emotional ties between the stepparent and the child
  • The biological parents’ ability to raise the child

Can a Step Parent Become a Legal Guardian?

A stepparent may become a legal guardian if they can prove that the biological parents are deceased, disabled, or unable to care for the child. The stepparent would need to go to their local clerk’s office to file a petition for guardianship. When conducting the guardianship process, the filing individual would need solid proof that one or more of the biological parents cannot care for the child. Forms will then be distributed between the court, the filer, and the biological parent(s). A judge is then assigned, and a hearing is held where it would be determined through a thorough analysis of the facts and situation on whether the judge grants guardianship. The main principle behind the decision is whether the act is in the best interest of the child. If guardianship is established, the stepparent would then have access to the biological parent’s rights and obligations previously held.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Can a stepparent adopt a child?

A: A stepparent may adopt the child. To adopt a stepchild, the biological parents would need to consent to give up their parental rights to the child.

Q: Can I file for visitation rights if there was no marriage?

A: A stepparent does not have access to visitation rights if they were never married to the biological parent.

Q: Who can I hire to help me access stepparent custody rights?

A: A family court attorney can help with legal documents and decisions. Contact Pride Legal to help find the perfect match.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has more questions concerning the rights of a stepparent, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further inquiries. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.