Sometimes when couples get married, the other spouse already has children from a previous relationship. This creates a stepparent relationship between that spouse and the child. Oftentimes in these situations, the step-parent will form a bond with the child. After all, in some cases that stepparent has been either the only or first mother or father-figure in the child's life. In other cases, the parties have been married for such a long time that the stepparent and the child form a close bond. Maybe the stepparent was the only responsible parent in the marriage. Perhaps the stepparent wound up being the primary care-taker for the child. Regardless of how that bond is formed, these cases can be heart-breaking in the event that the couple decides to get a divorce. No matter how much the stepparent loves the child, and no matter how good the intentions are of the stepparent, that stepparent will have an extraordinary time asserting his or her right to visitation with the child.
Do Stepparents Have Visitation Rights to the Child After a Divorce?
Under Texas law, when a couple gets a divorce former stepparents have no visitation rights. The law views them as “interested third parties” and allows them to petition the family law court and request visitation formally but this visitation is not automatic. In fact, if either biological parent objects to the visitation, the court will be inclined to deny visitation. This becomes a huge issue for stepparents that got divorced on a bad note and no longer have a good relationship with their ex-spouse or for the stepparents that never liked or got along with the child's other biological parent.
For a familiar example, think about this case :
Several years ago, when Texas resident and well-known Academy Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock divorced her husband, tabloids speculated about how that would affect Bullock’s relationship with her ex-husband’s young daughter. Subsequent reports indicate that despite years of being the child’s stepmother, contact tapered off and eventually ceased altogether.
Is There Any Chance That the Court Will Grant a Stepparent Visitation of a Child?
A : Although a difficult process, it is possible to prevail and for a stepparent to be granted visitation to the child.
The court bases its decision on what is in the best interest of the child. This means that in rare cases, visitation may be granted despite the biological parent’s objections.
Factors the court will consider include:
- How long did the child/stepparent relationship last? The longer the relationship the more likely the court is to give the request more weight.
- How emotionally close are the stepparent and child? Children may be interviewed in the Judge's chambers to give them a chance to express their preference.
- How active is the stepparent in the child’s life? Has the stepparent been involved with the children in extra-curricular activities? Attended parent/teacher conferences? The court will consider all relevant evidence.
- Has the stepparent contributed to the financial support of the child?
- Will it be detrimental to the child if the visitation request is denied?
If the court determines it is in the best interest of the child, visitation will be granted.
If you are a former stepparent seeking visitation, or a biological parent hoping to bar visitation, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance as this won't be an easy process, though not impossible.
One of the most areas of Texas Family Law undergoing the most change is Grandparents Rights. Additionally, the US Supreme Court has made some rulings that affect us.
In general, Grandparents have limited rights toward their grandchildren. For most Grandparents, that is not a problem - they work out things with the kids and grand-kids just fine. Click here to read more.