Can a Stepparent or Third Party Seek Visitation?
Under Arkansas law, grandparents and great-grandparents have the ability to petition the court for visitation rights to their grandchildren if a marriage has ended in divorce, death, or some specific legal separation. Other situations may arise that would cause the courts to intervene on behalf of the grandparents and great-grandparents, but those are the most common reasons when visitation is denied by the child’s custodial parent or guardian. However, the same cannot be said for stepparents, as it can be an uphill battle for those that are seeking visitation rights to a stepchild. It is especially hard if the biological parents of the child are alive and opposed to the visitation. Unfortunately, Arkansas does not have any laws that specifically grant child visitation to a stepparent.
If you are a stepparent or third party to a child seeking visitation rights with a child with which you have an established relationship, there is hope. If the courts can determine that established visitation is in the best interest of the child, you will have a fighting chance. In order to do this you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the following:
- You have established a significant and viable relationship with the child that you are requesting visitation; and
- Visitation with you is in the best interest of the child.
To prove an established significant and viable relationship with the child requires that:
- The child has resided with you for at least six (6) consecutive months with or without the custodian present;
- You were the caregiver to the child on a regular basis for at least six (6) consecutive months; or
- You had frequent or regular contact with the child for at least twelve (12) consecutive months; or
- Any other facts and evidence that prove the loss of the relationship between you and the child is likely to cause emotional harm to the child.
To prove that visitation with you is in the best interest of the child, you must:
- Have the capacity to give the child love, affection, and guidance;
- Establish that the loss of the relationship between you and the child is likely to cause harm to him or her; and
- Be willing to cooperate with the custodial parent or guardian if visitation with the child is allowed.
If the courts grant visitation to the stepparent or other third-party petitioner, visitation may occur regardless of which parent has physical custody. The visitation will be in a way that is consistent with all other orders regarding visitation with the child unless the court makes a specific finding otherwise. The courts will also make any restrictions or limitations as deemed appropriate. If the court grants you the custodian of the child is legally bound to abide by the court ruling. If you are still denied visitation with the court order, the custodian of the child will be in contempt of court and can be penalized.
If you are a stepparent or other third party seeking visitation with a child with which you have an established and viable relationship, contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners to discuss your case. We will gather the evidence necessary to prove that the loss of the relationship would be detrimental to the child and not in his or her best interest. Call our River Valley office, 479.434.2414 and Northwest Arkansas, 479.802.6560. As I mentioned earlier, this can be an uphill battle, but not impossible with the appropriate legal counsel and court representation presenting sound evidence proving your case.