Stepparent Custody & Visitation
Many stepparents form very close bonds with their grandchildren. But what happens when the stepparent’s relationship ends with the child’s parent? What access will the former stepparent have to the child?
Read on to learn more.
Basic Difference Between Custody and Visitation
The terms “custody” and “visitation” or sometimes used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. For example, custody is a broader term. It and can refer to either legal or physical custody. On the other hand, visitation refers to the time spent with a child.
On the other hand, unlike legal custody, visitation does not give someone the right to make major decisions about the child’s well-being, including education or medical care matters.
Stepparents as Third Party for Custody or Visitation Purposes
Anyone who isn’t a parent is a third party when it comes to Connecticut custody or visitation. Connecticut does not limit the ability to intervene in a custody action or seek visitation to those who have some biological or legal relationship with the child or one of the parties. In other words, a third party can be, for example, an aunt, or even a friend. That said, most frequently, stepparents and grandparents are the third parties seeking custody or visitation.
Third Party Stepparent Custody
A former stepparent’s access to custody is via intervening in an already pending parental custody action. This could be a custody action or a divorce, depending on whether the parents are married. In other words, § 46b-57 does not authorize third parties to initiate custody proceedings. The Connecticut Supreme Court has specifically indicated that the fact that a third party is permitted to intervene in a custody suit does not confer upon that party standing to bring custody into question by initiating a custody action.
In other words, a custody controversy (often between the two parents) must precede and exist independently from any stepparent’s third-party attempt to intervene. The search for the appropriate custody determination equires the court to allow all interested parties — including stepparents — the opportunity for a hearing concerning the qualifications of each person who is or may be a candidate for custody.
In making custody determinations, the standard the court uses is “the best interests of the child.” In addition, under the statute:
In any dispute as to the custody of a minor child involving a parent and a nonparent, there shall be a presumption that it is in the best interest of the child to be in the custody of the parent, which presumption may be rebutted by showing that it would be detrimental to the child to permit the parent to have custody.
Third Party Stepparent Custody
There are a couple of significant differences in how Connecticut courts handle third-party stepparent visitation as contrasted with the third-party custody described above.
In the third party visitation context, unlike in the third party custody context, the third party can bring his or her own separate visitation action. In other words, unlike with custody, there does not need to be an existing dispute between others for a third party to move forward and seek visitation.
Connecticut courts will not consider granting visitation with a child until the third party stepparent proves by “by clear and convincing evidence” that:
- a “parent-like relationship” exists, and
- not granting it would cause “real and significant harm” to the child.