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Can I visit my former stepchild?

Blended families are the norm these days in California, and they can make for some complicated situations. If you are going through a divorce, one thing you may wonder is whether you can get access to your stepchild once you are divorced.

The answer is: It depends.

Legal adoption

If you have formed a close bond with your stepchild and there is no second parent in the picture, you can discuss the possibility of adoption with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. An adoption would give you all the legal rights of a parent, and in fact, you would become the child's parent. If the divorce is amicable and your ex has always encouraged you to have a role in the child's life, this approach could be a real possibility.

Continuing involvement

Of course, in many cases, adoption is not possible because the child already has two involved legal parents. That does not mean you are out of options, though. Your ex may still want you in the child's life just as much as you do. The two of you can set up an arrangement for you to keep seeing the child when he or she is with that parent.

Visitation rights

If your ex does not want you to see the child but you feel like you have become an equal parent, you could be what is called a de facto parent. It is possible for you to file for visitation or even shared custody in the court system. The more evidence you have of the child's relationship with you, the better--letters where the child calls you "Mom" or "Dad," for example, and statements from witnesses attesting to the fact that you transported the children places and helped care for them for the past X years.

The bottom line is that courts do not offer visitation to a stepparent without being asked to. It is up to you to take proactive moves so that you can stay in your stepchild's life. The good news is that even if you are denied visitation, your former stepchild may reach out after he or she turns 18.

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