Santa Barbara Stepchild Custody Attorney

Children are often one of the most complex parts of any divorce, second marriage, or another marriage involving children from a previous relationship.  These children may take to their parent’s new spouse quickly, or it could be an uphill battle that takes years.  In any case, the stepparent’s child custody rights can be a complex legal issue that may require help from an experienced family law attorney.

If you are seeking custody rights over your stepchild, contact the Santa Barbara stepchild custody attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.  Our number is (805) 643-5555.  If you are seeking to adopt a stepchild, the process is quite different, and you can find more information about that at our Santa Barbara stepchild adoption page.

Seeking Child Custody Over a Stepchild

When your spouse already has children with a former spouse or partner, that partner likely still has custody rights over their shared children.  Unless your spouse’s ex is deceased or was stripped of custody, they are still the legal parent of the children and have the right to participate in the children’s lives.  In many cases, you, as a stepparent living in the same house, have more access and control over the children’s day-to-day lives, but how deep do your rights go?

Child custody means having a bundle of legal rights to have the child live in your household and make decisions about important life decisions and day-to-day decisions.  While your child lives in your house, you have “physical custody” and the power to control daily decisions, such as what is for dinner and what time the kids will do their homework.  “Legal custody” gives you the power to make decisions about your child’s education, healthcare, religion, and other broad categories of life-altering decisions.

If you are a stepparent but you have not adopted your stepchildren, your spouse typically has custody, but you do not.  This means that you may not have the legal right to make decisions in these kids’ lives, even if you live with them every day.

This system is quite impractical in many cases.  The practical effect of letting a stepparent live in the same house as the stepchildren but having no legal rights to make decisions for the child can lead to complicated legal situations.  For instance, a stepparent taking their spouse’s child to a doctor’s appointment may not have the authority to sign a release, or a school may need to seek permission from a birth parent rather than the stepparent the child lives with.

In some cases, to prevent absurd or awkward outcomes, the court may be able to grant you certain custody rights as a stepparent.  Especially if the child spends most of the year in your household, the court may even grant you custody rights over the other parent’s objection, especially if the birth parent has a history of physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, or criminal activity.

Alternatively, you could seek to adopt your stepchildren.  This would allow you to be the legal parent and seek full custody rights that trump the birth parent’s rights and give you the same legal rights as your spouse when it comes to parenting decisions.  This is often a vital step in marriages involving young children or blended families.

Seeking Custody of a Stepchild After Divorce

While a stepchild may not be your child biologically or legally, they could be your child in every other sense of the word.  Especially if you have been married to the child’s parent for a long time or since the child was very young, you may have a very close bond with your stepchild.  If you and your spouse get divorced, there can be complicated legal effects on your relationship with your stepchildren that could potentially end that relationship.

Stepparents legally have no rights over a stepchild after divorce unless the court has previously granted them custody or they have adopted those children.  This means that, no matter how close you are to your stepchildren, a divorce may mean losing access to the children.

Fortunately, California law does allow for custody and visitation rights for stepparents and other non-parents.  If both parents are willing and able to care for a child and want to be a part of their lives, the courts typically give priority to their custody claims over a stepparent’s claims.  However, other adults such as grandparents or stepparents may also claim custody over a child who has lived with them in a stable environment.

Especially if the child was taken away from a negligent or dangerous parent, a stepparent might be the next closest individual to place the children with, and a stepparent could fight to gain custody.  Courts may also consider giving custody to stepparents in divorce cases for blended families where stepbrothers and stepsisters stay together.

If a court will not grant custody to the stepparent and allow them to share parenting time, the court may still allow visitation rights.  This allows the stepparent to spend time with their stepchildren and continue to be a part of their lives.  This access could be supervised or unsupervised.  Courts ultimately look at the best interests of the child when making decisions, and your attorney can help you fight for visitation of a stepchild after divorce.

Contact Our Santa Barbara Stepchild Custody Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you are seeking custody rights over your stepchildren after getting married or you want to seek custody or visitation of a stepchild after divorcing their parent, contact the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today.  Our attorneys offer free case evaluations to discuss your options and help you learn how you can fight your case in court.  To schedule your consultation, call our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.

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