Rights of Extended Family and Stepparents
Biological parents aren’t the only people who advocate for the rights of children. When a parent dies, CPS becomes involved, or a parent is otherwise impaired, stepparents and grandparents can find themselves in the position of fighting for the best interests of children in their family. These parties face exceptional hurdles, but experienced attorneys like ours know how to navigate these seemingly insurmountable roadblocks. These cases are rare and incredibly specialized, so finding aggressive and experienced attorneys can be challenging. At Walters Gilbreath, we have the experience and the skills necessary to give you guidance regarding your rights and options to handle these difficult cases.
Under Texas law, when a couple gets a divorce, former stepparents usually have limited legal ability to maintain a relationship with a former stepchild. The law often views these parties as ‘interested third parties’ and allows them to petition the Family Law Court and formally request visitation, as this visitation is not automatic. If either biological parent objects to the visitation, the court will be inclined to deny visitation. The key word here is ‘inclined.’ After all, in some cases, that stepparent may be the only or the first mother-figure or father-figure in the child’s life—it wouldn’t be fair to deny the child access to them.
Although this type of case is difficult, if you are seeking legal rights to continued involvement with a stepchild, our attorneys have the experience necessary to provide you guidance inside and outside the courtroom during a time when the facts specific to your case matter more than anything. In some cases, the court may even grant visitation despite the biological parent’s objections. Factors the court may consider include the following:
- How long was the child-stepparent relationship? The longer the relationship, the more weight the court is likely to give the request.
- How emotionally close are the stepparent and child? Children may be interviewed in the Judge’s chambers to give them a chance to express their preference.
- How active is the stepparent in the child’s life? Has the stepparent been involved with the children in extracurricular activities? Have they attended parent/teacher conferences?
- Has the stepparent contributed to the financial support of the child?
- Will it be detrimental to the child if the visitation request is denied?
The court will consider the factors listed above and the facts specific to the case to determine what is in the best interest of the children.
Grandparents most commonly get involved in custody cases if a parent denies them the right to see their grandchild, a parent dies or is impaired, CPS is involved, or a parent or caretaker believes the child is subject to remarkably incompetent or abusive parenting.
A suit by a grandparent has several requirements, but the primary purpose of those requirements is to prove that a lack of access to grandparents would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.
When Courts Determine Significant Impact They May Consider:
- If a mental health professional (such as the child’s counselor) has insight on the functioning of the child and/or the parents;
- If there is evidence of significant issues such as substance abuse problems or violent outbursts by the parents; and
- The nature of the relationship between the children and the grandparent.
Grandparent access cases are rare and are very fact specific. The courts take any request by a non-parent to limit a parent’s rights to their own children very seriously. If you believe you are a candidate for a grandparent custody case, consult with a lawyer who has experience in this area so you can understand the process and determine your next steps.