In today's world, family units come in all different sizes and variations. Due to the prevalence of divorces, any given home may be occupied by a step-parent. Many remarried couples have to deal with child rearing issues involving their non-biological children. However, what rights do these step-parents have over the upbringing of such a child? There's no doubt that disputes can arise between the step-parent and his or her spouse, or the child's other biological parent. In such a case, it is important to know just where a step-parent stands in the legal sense.
In the Past
Prior to modern times, it was generally held that step-parents did not have any rights over a non-biological child. This held true regardless of the fact that the step-parent may have been heavily involved in providing financial and parental support for the child. However, as noted above, times are changing. Many jurisdictions now recognize that it is unfair to exclude a step-parent from important parenting decisions. At least, this is true where the step-parent has a close relationship with the minor. Some states have even gone as far as passing legislation to solidify the rights of step-parents.
Parental Rights in a Nutshell
It's still true that biological parents generally maintain all the rights over a minor child. When a child lives with a biological parent and a step-parent, the child is usually under the care and responsibility of the actual parent. This parent will make most (if not all) of the child custody, guardianship, educational and medical decisions for the child. A step-parent may participate in the decision making process as far as the biological parent is willing to allow it. Non-custodial parents may also have rights when it comes to both physical and legal custody of the child.
A Change in the Tide
Modern jurisprudence is not ignorant of the important role of a step-parent. Due to this, there are situations where a step-parent can obtain rights that are normally reserved for biological parents. Take the state of New Hampshire, for example. There, a step-parent can petition for visitation rights when there is a divorce. This recognizes the special bond that can occur between a step-parent and his or her step-child. Courts are more likely to grant this type of request when children do not have another biological child in their lives.
Step-parents in Utah may be able to use the Custody and Visitation for Persons Other than Parents Act as a basis for visitation. This act allows courts to grant visitation or custody to a person who has assumed the role of a parent, and has an emotional bond with the child. This person may also need to prove that he or she has provided for the child, and that the order would be in the child's best interest. Those who want more information about this option should contact an experienced lawyer practicing family law.
Perhaps the closest way a step-parent can obtain the rights of a natural parent is through guardianships. Sometimes, the biological parent can give guardianship rights to a spouse. When this occurs, the step-parent can make decisions that are similar in nature to that of the biological parent. It is important to point out that these decisions will usually not have any effect if they attempt to supersede those of the biological parent. However, it gives the step-parent some semblance of actual parental authority in the eyes of the law.
Careful Planning is Required
Although many courts are becoming more open to the idea of granting rights to a step-parent, it is far from being and open-and-shut case. Therefore, one should never attempt to resolve this type of situation alone. To fully understand the options, consult a child custody attorney to learn about the law in your jurisdiction. In Utah, you can reach out to Spencer and Jensen PLLC for assistance. Get the answers you need to any child custody, divorce, visitation rights or grandparents rights issue.