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Visitation with Unrelated or Step-Children

Divorce is hard. It is emotionally taxing and physically exhausting when two people who entered into a marriage decide to end it. The difficulty is exacerbated, though, when one of the parties was a step-parent and is now separated from not only their former partner, but children they’ve bonded with as well. In the state of Massachusetts, there are provisions for de facto parents to get visitation as long as the court deems it is in the best interest of the child or children.

What is a De Facto Parent?

A de facto parent, or psychological parent, is a person who is not a biological parent and not biologically related to the child, but who provides for their physical and emotional needs on a regular and continuous basis. This can be a step-parent, foster parent, or another non-related person in the child’s life. Often the child considers the person to be their parent or a parental figure.

While traditionally de facto parent visitation involved a step-parent or grandparents, in recent years it has expanded as homosexual marriage has been legalized and more same sex couples are having and adopting children. When a child is born to a same sex couple, both parents’ name may not be included on the birth certificate. This means that the “other” partner is not named as a parent and has not legal right as a parent. However, they are de facto parents because they are involved in raising the children so they can claim certain rights to the children under those laws governing that type of situation.

What do Massachusetts child custody laws say about de facto parent visitation?

Massachusetts family law does not have a specific statute which grants de facto parents or step-parents visitation right to children who are not biologically theirs. There are two cases in the Massachusetts courts that have laid important groundwork for a step-parent’s right to have visitation with their step-children after the marriage has dissolved.

These cases helped shape the definition of de facto parent in Massachusetts courts to be “one who has no biological relation to the child but has participated in the child’s life as a member of the child’s family. The de facto parent resides with the child, and with the consent and encouragement of the legal parent, performs a share of caretaking functions at least as great as the legal parent. (E.N.O. v. L.M.M., 429 Mass. 824 (1999))”

Youmans v. Ramos

Another case that strengthened the rights of de facto parents is Youmans v. Ramos. In this case, visitation was granted to the maternal aunt with whom the child has spent most of her life. After the child’s mother had passed away, the aunt was appointed guardian. The biological father lived in Georgia while the child and her aunt lived in Massachusetts. The father petitioned the court to terminate the aunt’s guardianship and he was successful. The court granted him full custody of the child.

The aunt was awarded visitation with the child. The court’s reasoning was based on the child’s best interests. “In every case in which a court order has the effect of disrupting a relationship between a child and a parent, the question surely will arise whether it is in the child’s best interest to maintain contact with that adult. Whether such contact in any given case is wise is a matter that should be left to the discretion of the judge. The evidence of the parent-child relationship and strong emotional ties between Tamika and her aunt fully warrant the judge’s order, more particularly because this young girl was being moved to a new environment to live with a man with whom she had spent precious little time in her life. (Youmans v. Ramos, 429 Mass. 774 (1999) Id., at 783-784)”

Seeking Step-Parent Visitation

When you decide to seek step-parent visitation arm yourself with as much evidence as possible that shows your involvement in the child’s life. Records that show you attended parent conferences, that you took the child to the doctor, and that you participated in their daily or regular care will strengthen your case. Depending on the child’s age and developmental state, the court may also allow the child to say whether or not they want visitation with you.

If you are going through a divorce and want to have visitation with your step-children, you need experienced, knowledgeable attorneys to handle your case. Let Infinity Law Group put our experience to work for you. Call today for your free phone consultation.