Advocating for Visitation and Custody for Stepparents
While most people do not consider the visitation or rights of stepparents involved in a divorce, the state of Massachusetts does recognize that stepparents can have a positive impact on a child’s formative years and that relationship should be preserved. Even though there is no blood-relationship, stepparents are allowed to seek visitation with their stepchildren, even if a divorce is contentious, so long as that relationship is a benefit to the child. However, this emotional bond must be proven and supported in a family law court for those rights to be upheld.
If you are a stepparent who is seeking visitation, then you will need the aid of an experienced and skilled Boston stepparent rights attorney. Massachusetts’s courts do not automatically award visitation or custody to stepparents, and you will need sound legal counsel to ensure your rights are upheld. Contact the DiBella Law Offices, P.C. at (617) 870-0907 to employ the aid of a knowledgeable family law attorney.
Massachusetts’s Laws on Stepparent Rights
Stepparents are often referred to as de facto parents, meaning they are not biologically related to their spouse’s or ex-spouse’s child. Some may be legal guardians, while others may not, but so long as a stepparent provides for the physical and emotional needs of a child, they can be considered a de facto parent. While there are no specific statutes that support the idea of a de facto parents in Massachusetts, spouses can extend caregiver status to a stepparent under Chapter 511 of the Acts of 2008. Based on this law, a parent can name another individual as a child’s caregiver with regards to the child’s education and healthcare so long as they live in the same home. This can include adult siblings, grandparents, and stepparents. While these individuals cannot overrule an authorizing parent in a decision regarding the child, they can act as a de facto parent when the authorizing parent is unavailable.
In addition to this law, multiple cases have supported stepparents’ rights to pursue visitation and custody after a divorce. Following the case of ENO v. LMM, 429 Mass. 824 (1999), the state of Massachusetts acknowledged that de facto parents may seek visitation and custody if the de factor parent demonstrates that they have acted as the child’s caregiver while residing with the child and their primary parent or guardian. The courts understand that stepparents can be just as involved in a child’s life as a biological parent, thus allowing them to seek visitation and custody following a divorce.
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Visitation and Custody for Stepparents
Boston family law courts take matters of child custody and visitation very seriously, meaning they will not automatically award those rights to a stepparent without a strong case. The court presiding over your case will base their decision on the best interest of the child. For stepparents, this means you must demonstrate that you have been an active participant in the child’s emotional and physical development. This may prove difficult if the child’s biological parent objects to visitation time or custody, but that does not mean it is impossible.
Evidence to support your case can take many forms, including:
- Healthcare and education documents that support your status as a de facto parent
- Witness testimony from other relatives, school administration, child psychologists, and any individual who can attest to your relationship
- Family photos, cards, and other physical demonstrations of your relationship
- Documents detailing if your ex-spouse stated that you acted as the child’s caretaker
All this and more can help prove your case to the court, but it will also come down to what the child wants. If the child does desire visitation or even custody, then the courts will take that into consideration. If they determine that you have had a positive impact on the child’s development, you may be granted unsupervised visitation or joint custody if the courts believe it would benefit the child.
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Adoption Rights for Stepparents
Adoption is an option available to stepparents during a marriage, however, it comes with certain restrictions. For a stepparent to seek adoption, the non-custodial parent—the parent the child does not reside with—must have had their parental rights surrendered, either willingly or by a family law court, or if they are deceased. Only then can a stepparent file for adoption, which requires that they are married to the child’s primary parent who has both legal and physical custody of the child. In addition, the child must reside with the custodial parent and the stepparent for up to six months before filing the petition in court. If you meet all the requirements and the court approves your petition, then you would legally be the child’s parent.
The Role of Your Attorney
Family matters involving stepparents are far more complicated than most child custody or visitation cases. The laws are not as clear-cut as cases involving biological parents, and stepparents are often considered secondary to the wishes of their ex-spouses. However, that does not mean that you do not have the right to visitation or custody as a stepparent and can fully exercise those rights if you can prove your case in court. But, to have a successful case, you will need a Boston family law attorney at your side to review your case and provide legal advice regarding your options.
If you are stepparent seeking custody or visitation with the child of your ex-spouse, please contact the DiBella Law Offices, P.C. Our firm has extensive experience handling family law cases in Boston and an in-depth understanding of Massachusetts’s laws. Contact us at (617) 870-0907 to learn how we can represent you in a family law case.