What Legal Rights Do I Have as a Stepparent?
Stepparents play an important role in children's lives. From providing emotional support to getting the kids to school on time, stepparents greatly enrich their stepchildren's lives. However, when it comes to their legal rights as parents, they are somewhat limited. This can make things difficult when you divorce your stepchild's biological parent or when you are trying to provide for your stepchildren. Understanding your rights as a stepparent is crucial and can help save you and your family a lot of anxiety.
Stepparent Visitation Rights
As a stepparent, you may be granted visitation with your stepchild, even if you have not formally adopted the child. According to California Family Code § 3100, the courts may grant "reasonable visitation rights […] to any other person having an interest in the welfare of the child." And, according to § 3101, the courts may grant visitation to a stepparent "if visitation by the stepparent is determined to be in the best interest of the minor child."
However, stepparent visitation cases are incredibly complicated, and you are not guaranteed to be granted visitation just because you were the child's stepparent. If you seek visitation with your stepchild, you should reach out to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A skilled lawyer can help you throughout your case and can provide you with the support you need to feel more confident in court.
Challenges You May Face Seeking Visitation as a Stepparent
When considering stepparent visitation cases, the court's first and primary goal is ensuring that the child's best interests are being served. If both of the child's biological parents are still active in the child's life, getting visitation as a stepparent can be an uphill battle. This is because the courts tend to prioritize preserving the child's relationship with their biological parents.
As a stepparent seeking visitation, you will also have to prove to the courts that it is in the child's best interest to have visitation with you. This can be a challenging task to accomplish and is why working with a lawyer is recommended.
Are Stepparents Required to Pay Child Support
Generally speaking, no, stepparents are not required to pay child support. However, this does not mean that a stepparent cannot voluntarily agree to pay child support. For example, a stepparent may agree to a marital contract with provisions for child support for a stepchild. In these cases, the courts may uphold that agreement and require the stepparent to fulfill their agreed-upon obligation. Simiarly, if you have officially adopted your stepchild, you will have the same financial responsibilities as a biological parent and may be required to pay child support after a divorce.
If you are married to your stepchild's biological parent, and they are required to pay child support, you may also be liable yourself. Because California is a community property state, any income gained during your marriage is considered community property (unless there is a legally valid marital agreement that says otherwise). This means that if your spouse cannot pay their court-ordered child support, the courts may require you to use your marital property to pay the support obligation.
When to Call a Lawyer
If you are a stepparent and need help with custody, visitation, or child support issues, you should contact an attorney right away. Stepparent cases are often complicated and can be very stressful. Working with an experienced lawyer can help you put your best foot forward and give you the best chance at reaching a favorable outcome. Our law firm has helped many families dealing with complicated stepparent situations, and we are prepared to discuss your case. Contact us today.