Blended families are common today as new spouses often bring one or more children into a marriage, merging two families. Sometimes, the new step-parent becomes the “mother” or the “father” figure for a child, or may be the only mother or father the child has ever known. What happens to these relationships after a divorce? Does the divorce mean a severance of the relationship between a child and step parent as well?
The Court of Appeals addressed this issue last year in a case called Van Driesche. In this case, the stepfather sought visitation with the mother’s child, age 4. Stepfather had been the only father the child had known and the mother had encouraged a parent – child relationship. The trial court awarded stepfather parenting time citing the “child – parent relationship” between the stepfather and the child. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and denied the stepfather visitation, citing the mother’s right under the U.S. Constitution to make decisions regarding the associations of her child absent evidence that the child would be harmed. At trial, the stepfather failed to provide evidence, other than his opinion, that the child would be harmed if visitation was not allowed. Without evidence of harm and in light of evidence showing that the mother and the stepfather at times had a violent relationship, the Court of Appeals found that visitation by the stepfather was not in the best interest of the child.
This does not mean that no step parent will ever be awarded visitation. Upon showing that the step parent and child have a “parent – child relationship” and that the child would be subject to a serious risk of harm (emotional or otherwise) if the relationship was not continued, the Court may order appropriate visitation to the step parent. If you are in a situation like this, you should discuss the specific facts of your case in detail with your attorney.