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Do Step-Parents Have Visitation Rights in Orlando?
Blended families can take on many different forms. Parents may marry or remarry and create a stepfamily for their children.
It is estimated that approximately 1,300 new stepfamilies form each day in the United States. Over one-half of families consist of individuals who are remarried or re-coupled. The U.S. Census estimates that there are over 3.85 million stepchildren living in homes throughout the country.
It is common for many stepchildren and stepparents to develop close, loving bonds. For some children, their stepparent may be more involved in their lives than a biological parent. So, what happens when the child’s biological parent and stepparent divorce? Does the stepparent have any right to visitation with the child?
Stepparents Do Not Have Automatic Parental Rights
A stepparent does not automatically gain parental rights when they divorce a child’s biological parents, even if the stepchild has lived with them since birth.
A stepparent does not have any legal right to make decisions for a stepchild. For example, the stepparent cannot seek medical treatment for a child or pick up a child from school without consent from a biological parent with legal custody of the child.
If both biological parents share joint legal custody of the children, the stepparent would need consent from both biological parents before exercising any legal decision-making power over the child. Of course, the authority to make decisions related to the stepchild can be revoked at any time.
Therefore, if you and your spouse divorce, you have no legal right to demand visitation with your stepchildren. Instead, your ex-spouse controls whether you see your stepchildren.
However, there are a few cases in which Florida judges may order visitation for a stepparent with a stepchild.
Examples of Stepparent Visitation
Suppose a stepparent has been the primary caregiver for the child for many years. In that case, the judge may determine that it is in the child’s best interest to allow the stepparent some form of visitation.
Some factors that a judge might consider:
The relationship between the child and the biological parent not married to the stepparent
How involved the stepparent is in the child’s life (i.e., coaches the child’s little league team, stays home with the stepchild, etc.)
The child’s preference, depending on the child’s age and maturity
Whether separating the child from the stepparent would be detrimental to the child’s emotional and mental wellbeing
Judges must balance the needs of the child with the wishes of the biological parents. In most cases, if biological parents are fit, judges are hesitant to overrule their objections to visitation with a stepparent.
Adoption by Stepparents in Florida
Some stepparents often file an adoption case to establish legal rights with a stepchild. The Florida Adoption Act governs all adoptions in the state, including stepparent adoptions.
If the other biological parent agrees to relinquish parental rights, the process of stepparent adoption is relatively straightforward. However, if the biological parent objects to the adoption, the stepparent would need to prove that the state should terminate parental rights because it is in the child’s best interest. Generally, this involves proving that the biological parent is unfit.
When a stepparent adopts a stepchild, the stepparent receives all parental rights to that child. It is as if the stepparent is the biological parent of the child. The stepparent has the right to make decisions for the child and have visitation with the stepchild according to any orders of the court. The stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child when the adoption is complete.
Other benefits for a stepparent adoption include:
The child may inherit from the stepparent under Florida intestate laws
Allows the child to receive Social Security benefits, including retirement and disability income from the parent
The child may receive military benefits under the stepparent as if the stepchild is a biological child of the service member
Provides parenting rights for the stepparent should the biological parent die or the parties divorce
The stepparent is legally liable for the financial support of the child (child support) if the stepparent and the child’s biological parent divorce
Stepparent adoption can become complicated. It is wise to have an experienced Florida adoption lawyer represent the stepparent. The attorney ensures that all legal matters are addressed, and nothing is left to chance.