Rights of a Florida Stepparent to Visitation
Florida ranks 5th among states for the highest percentage of divorce, with 13.1% of the population divorced. And an increasing number of women are choosing to have children before marriage, either through in-vitro fertilization, adoption or continuing a pregnancy without the biological father. Though seemingly unrelated, these numbers mean that blended families are becoming the norm. And while movies and television still love to portray step-parents as evil and uncaring, the truth is that many develop loving, healthy relationships with their stepchildren.
But if the marriage ended in divorce, or if the stepparent’s spouse died, forcing the step-child to go live with his other biological parent, would the stepparent have any visitation rights?
Rights of Florida Stepparents
Unfortunately, Florida law does not grant stepparents any legal right to have visitation with their stepchildren. Even if you helped raise the child for 10 years, if you and your spouse divorce, you have no legal right to continue a relationship with the child if the biological parent cuts off all ties. The same is true if your spouse dies and the other biological parent or the child’s grandparents obtain custody of the child and decide, for whatever reason, to sever ties with you.
Even if your spouse drafted a will and named you to serve as the child’s guardian in the event of her death, it is unlikely that the court would honor that appointment if the child’s biological parent stepped in to claim custody, unless you could prove that he was unfit to care for the child.
If you are a stepparent, the only way to protect your rights is to legally adopt the child. If you formally adopt the child, in the event of divorce or the death of your spouse, you would be legally recognized as the child’s parent and would be able to sue for custody or visitation, receive child support, or become the child’s guardian in the event of your spouse’s death.
In order to adopt your stepchild, the child’s other biological parent must either give his consent to the adoption or you must submit an affidavit of diligent search to the court stating that you do not know the parent’s whereabouts after conducting an exhaustive search. Once the adoption is final, the stepparent has the same rights and responsibilities toward the child as a biological parent.
Experienced Boca Raton Adoption Attorney
At Schwartz | White, we understand that the relationship between a stepparent and stepchild can be as loving as that between a parent and biological child. Although Florida does not provide stepparents with any rights to custody or visitation, there are ways you can protect that relationship should the marriage end in divorce or the child’s parent dies. The adoption attorneys at the Boca Raton office of Schwartz | White have more than 50 years’ combined experience handling stepparent adoptions. Call us today at 561-391-9943, or complete our convenient web form, to schedule an appointment to discuss how you can secure your future relationship with your stepchild.