Grandparents and Stepparents Rights

For the past few weeks I have been discussing all of the issues that relate to child custody and visitation orders at the time of divorce, separation or even in the situation of unwed parents. However, what if the individual seeking custody or visitation is not a biological parent but a grandparent or a stepparent?

Grandparents can seek child custody and/or visitation orders with their grandchildren in some situations where the primary care taker parent does not allow for the grandparents to be in the lives of their children. For example, in a situation where one parent is deceased and the surviving parent eliminates ties with the deceased parent’s family, i.e., the grandparents, the grandparents can seek a court order to continue a relationship with their grandchildren.

Another situation can be when stepparents are involved. For example, an unmarried parent gets remarried and then divorced, the children bond with their stepparent but custody is with the biological parent – in this situation the stepparent can seek for visitation rights or even custody.

The circumstances can be as serious as a grandparent and/or a stepparent seeking the custody of the children based on the biological parents being unfit to care for the children. This can occur when the parent is abusing drugs or alcohol or when there is evidence of child abuse.

Under any of these scenarios, grandparents and/or stepparents can seek to obtain custody and/or visitation of the children through their local family Court by filing for a Petition for Child Custody and/or Visitation. Just as in the situation of the parents seeking custody or visitation, a judge will consider the children’s health, safety and welfare, as well as each party’s history of behavior with the children. A determination of custody and visitation will be made based on the children’s best interest.

As previously indicated in my article, Family Law: Child Custody and Visitation, there are two different types of custody, legal and physical. The judge may order joint legal custody in which the parties share the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the children’s health, education and welfare. Such decisions could include choosing the children’s doctor or the school they will attend. On the other hand, the judge may order sole legal custody where one party has the right to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the children.

Additionally, the judge may order joint physical custody where the children spend time living with each party on a regular basis but not necessarily equal time. In the alternative, the judge may order sole physical custody where the children live with one party and the other party only has visitation rights. Under these circumstances, a visitation order must be established. These orders can vary based on the circumstances of each situation.

The issues of child custody and visitation are very complicated when a third party seeks to obtain an order. An attorney should be consulted to give the proper advice on these highly sensitive and life changing decisions.

This column is produced by Mary Der-Parseghian, Esq. For questions or comments, please send your message to 4727 Wilshire blvd., Suite 301, Los Angeles, CA 90010; E-mail: or call at 323-937-2727. For additional articles please visit our webpage at

© 2011. Der-Parseghian Law Group


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