Though we see it most often in Hollywood, stepparents can play an important role in raising a child. In many states including Texas, it is possible for stepparents to get visitation rights after divorcing the child's birth parent.
But getting stepparent visitation rights is no easy matter. In most cases, the court will show a strong preference to the natural parents' wishes.
Still, the court will consider a variety of factors to make a decision about granting visitation orders.
Twenty-three of the 50 states statutorily authorize stepparent visitation. In 10 states, stepparents are explicitly named as having the right to request visitation.
In Texas, however, stepparents are considered "interested third parties."
The guiding rule for the court is the best interests of the child. So if a court finds that the child is best served by stepparent visitation, the court can grant visitation rights.
Some factors that a court can consider in granting stepparent visitation rights include:
- Personal involvement. How involved was the stepparent is in the child's life?
- Length of relationship in parental role. How long did the stepparent fill the role of the child's natural parent?
- Emotional relationship. How close -- emotionally, not geographically -- are the stepparent and child to each other?
- Financial contributions. How much financial support did the stepparent provide to the child?
- Detriment to child. How much harm, if any, will the child suffer if the visitation isn't granted?
The last factor, "detriment to the child," is especially important because in Texas, the natural parents' wishes are given great weight. Stated simply, apart from extreme circumstances, the court will listen to the biological parents' wishes.
Although Texas does not provide strong legal support to stepparents in child custody and visitation matters, and shows strong preference to natural parents, the sage family law rule is the "best interests of the child."
Like grandparents in Texas, a stepparent is an "interested third party" and can prevail if denying visitation would be detrimental to the child. Factors the court will consider include the child's happiness, sense of security, mental health, or emotional development.