Social Question

Dutchess_III's avatar

Should the step-parents of children who aren't biologically related to them have some legal right to visitation when a relationship ends?

Asked by Dutchess_III (39544points) July 7th, 2011

Say, a man gets into a serious, long term relationship with a woman who has a baby. Then they break up seven years later. For that 7 year old child, that man is the only father he’s ever known, and the man badly wants to stay in the child’s life, but he has no legal rights to visitation. Should there be some laws that address that situation?

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20 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

Isn’t that what the adoption option is for? I think that’s the closest thing to it?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about what would happen if my husband were to pass away. I would not only lose my husband, I would also lose my children. I don’t care if I didn’t carry them in my womb, they are my kids, too… and I am also their parent. A healthy relationship with a stepparent can be an incredibly positive thing for a child, especially if there is animosity or a lack of parenting on the part of one or both of the biological parents. Stepparents deserve more rights. With the divorce rate what it is, we are a pretty common fixture in modern relationships. The classic picture of a family is starting to blur, and blended families are becoming more common all the time. The laws need to adjust to accommodate these changes in society.

quiddidyquestions's avatar

@Blackberry The law only allows 2 people to be legal parents. If one biological parent is unwilling to give up his or her legal rights and responsibilities to the child, a step-parent can’t legally adopt the kid. there are some details written into the law to deal with horribly absentee parents, but I don’t remember what they are. I’m sure there are some lawyer jellies who can fill in those gaps.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Yes. If these were civilized adults, the mom would allow some sort of visitation. I’ve been the kid in this type of situation…the unfortunate thing about adults is that they rarely act civilized when you’d like them to.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@SpatzieLover precisely.

@quiddidyquestions in Ohio if the parent has been completely absent for one year, the other parent can file to have their parental rights rescinded. I’m not sure how it varies from state to state, though.

Blackberry's avatar

@quiddidyquestions Oh. Then I have no answer lol. It’s too dependent on individual situations.

Aethelflaed's avatar

No. For every situation like the one you presented and @ANef_is_Enuf,‘s there are also ones where the parent got remarried when the child was 13, divorced the step-parent when the child was 15, and step-parent and step-child were never close, and it wouldn’t be good to force the child to spend the next 2 years seeing someone whom they never saw as a parent. Or the parent remarried when the child was young, but the step-parent never held a primary parenting role and is toxic. While I am for finding some way to help in @ANef_is_Enuf‘s case, the entire reason for toxic biological parents getting visitation rights is because they’re biological, and helped to bring the child into the world. The idea that any step-parent, good or bad, involved or not, would have a legal right to visitation rights is ludicrous.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Aethelflaed That’s a completely different situation and doesn’t pertain to this question.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I’m not sure that it is completely different, because that is also a common scenario. In visitation and custody changes there are frequently investigations done, and there is no reason that the same couldn’t apply to a stepparent applying for visitation. If grandparents can file for visitation, why not a stepparent?
It isn’t like visitation is obligatory, someone has to file for it, which means that someone has to want it. If the custodial parent or primary caregiver were to disagree, there’s no reason that an investigation by CPS couldn’t be implemented if it were to apply, or a guardian ad litem appointed to decide whether or not visitation with a stepparent would be appropriate. It wouldn’t be particularly different than when a biological parent petitions for visitation or custody. The only hurdle would be cost, which is probably why it isn’t typical.

Having said that, I find the claim that “the idea that any step-parent, good or bad, involved or not, would have a legal right to visitation rights is ludicrous” to be outright offensive. Just about anyone can make a baby… but it takes a hell of a lot more than that to make a parent.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Dutchess_III Ok. I guess I misunderstood your question, because laws aren’t written just for that scenario. I thought you were asking just about step-parents rights in general, and your details were just an example.

@ANef_is_Enuf I’m not quite sure why you find it offensive. Just as anyone can make a baby, anyone can marry someone who has a child. Just to be clear, I’m not against step-parents who have been a primary caregiver being able to, in a case-by-case basis, prove how big a part of a child’s life they’ve been and gain visitation rights if the child is interested in continuing the relationship (much like grandparents), nor am I against bio parents being able to arrange for that type of thing in their will. What I am against is a broad, sweeping law saying that anyone who is or was a step-parent has a legal right to visitation rights, which was what I thought @Dutchess_III was asking.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Aethelflaed No…I wasn’t asking for a broad law. However, at this point step-parents have 0 recourse to staying in their children’s lives because they aren’t bio.

I met my first husband when his daughter was 18 months old. He got full residential custody soon after. We were married when she was 2. Her bio mother was in and out of the picture for the next 5 years. Sometimes she’d come by, sometimes she wouldn’t. She was a druggie and a drunk. There was a period of almost 2 years when we didn’t hear from her at all. In Kansas 24 months is the magic number…I could have applied for adoption. She showed back up 23 months later. I was devastated.

Through out those 5 years she would continually say things like, “If any thing happens to Rob YOU have NO legal rights AT ALL and you’ll never see Jen again!!” My God. I was the only Mom my daughter knew. That other lady was just a shadow who came in and out of her life once in a while. It would have killed me to be torn away from my daughter.

That is becoming so prevalent today….these adults get so very attached to the children, and the children get “attached” to them. That’s called “Love.” There is a bond there, but no way to allow it to stay.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Dutchess_III Oh, ok. My bad. I’m all for people who are parents like in @ANef_is_Enuf‘s definition (not just popping out a kid or getting married to someone who has) having more options, it’s the idea of creating the laws based upon the dictionary definition of step-parent that I don’t care for.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Aethelflaed I’m not sure how you can not see how what you said was offensive. You word it as if it is absurd for any stepparent to have visitation rights, regardless of what role they’ve played in a child’s life. On the other hand, you seem to feel as if it is perfectly fine for lousy bio-parents to automatically be granted rights simply because they helped to make the child.

You’re absolutely right that just about anyone can marry someone with a child, in the same way that just about anyone can make a child – so I’m not sure why you have two different viewpoints when you seem to agree that both situations are not all that different. So why shouldn’t it be on a case by case basis? Why shouldn’t it be investigated just like biological custody/visitation cases frequently are?

It simply isn’t fair that in situations like @Dutchess_III‘s that she has fewer rights than the biological mother, although she was the primary mother figure in the child’s life from 18 months of age. Bio-mom takes precedence by default, regardless of what a crappy parent she may have been from day one. That’s just nonsense.

My own situation isn’t even like @Dutchess_III,‘s and I still feel like I should have a right to fight to see my kids if I were to lose my husband in some way.They have a mother that loves them, that is a part of their lives. They have a father that does the same, I just happened to marry him.
However it doesn’t end there. Those kids can’t remember their lives before me, because they were that young when I met them. They have a mother and a father, but they also happen to call me “mom” and their stepfather “dad.” They have two moms, and two dads, and all four of us are their parents…. just because two of us didn’t help to create them doesn’t mean that our roles in raising these kids should be discredited in the eyes of the law.

I don’t think that just any stepparent should have a right to fight for visitation, but the number of cases like my own or like @Dutchess_III are countless. So although I agree with you that a blanket “yes” to all stepparent visitation wouldn’t be the best outcome, I feel equally opposed to a blanket “no.”

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Ok, please calm down. I’m not trying to be offensive, I just don’t know what is going through your head. That’s why I asked. There’s nothing wrong with admitting I can’t read your mind. I actually didn’t say it was fine for any bio-parent to have visitation rights, but I understand why they do, and I don’t think that’s going to change. But the difference is, the child in question literally would not exist had the bio parent not gotten their freak on, though I hardly think that’s something to brag about or use as proof of good parenting. But I do think letting the bio-parents have first dibs as a default, and then changing that if need be is the best system.
As I’ve already said, I’m all for taking it on a case-by-case basis, and letting good step-parents have more access. I’m not for not giving you some way to see your children should something happen to your husband. I’m against a blanket law giving anyone who married someone who had offspring a legal right to visitation, same as their legal right to a trial by jury and your legal right to a public defender. Which appears to be the same position you’re taking, so I’m not quite sure why this is an issue, nor do I understand how exactly I have two different viewpoints.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I am calm… sorry if you were under the impression that I was being combative. This statement: “The idea that any step-parent, good or bad, involved or not, would have a legal right to visitation rights is ludicrous” made it sound as though you were for a blanket “no.” You said that you didn’t understand how that was offensive, I was just trying to explain why it bothered me. (Which I am doing again, so don’t panic…) Do you see what I was trying to say?
We do seem to be on the same page. That statement just threw me off.

Visitation and custody should always be based on the best interests of the child. That should be the case when you are dealing with biological or non-biological parents. But at the rate society is changing, it’s about time that we recognize that there are lots of non-biological parents out there, and something should be adjusted to accommodate that fact. Something like one in four families is blended now, and the system needs to evolve to take into account that the dynamic of what makes a “family” or what makes a “parent” is not necessarily what it has always been considered to be.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Not a blanket no, just not a blanket yes (which was what I thought the original question was asking about). I like my parenting laws in general to have lots of flexibility for case-by-case situations.

Brian1946's avatar


Have you adopted or filed to adopt your stepchildren?

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Brian1946 Not that easy. If the bio parent is still active, in any minor way, in their life, you can’t adopt.

@ANef_is_Enuf@Aethelflaed has it. She’s / He’s cool. Whoooo Saw!!!!

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Brian1946 no. That isn’t an option because my stepchildren have a biological mother that is involved in their lives as well.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I feel for you @ANef_is_Enuf…..

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