Recently, an appeals court here in Florida ruled that a stepfather was not entitled to timesharing or visitation with his stepchild, even though his evidence established that he was the father figure in that child’s life. This harsh result is a reminder of the status of Florida law and the profound importance of making sure you are taking the proper legal steps to protect your relationship with that child. Whether you are an LGBT partner/spouse of a biological parent, a heterosexual stepparent or hold some other relationship, it is very important to retain a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney and complete the right legal processes, or else you may be denied contact with that child if you and your spouse/partner split.
In that recent case, J.H. and his wife were a married couple raising three children in the Tampa area. The eldest of the three was born the year before the marriage and had her last name changed to match the rest of the family. She was, however, not J.H.’s biological child and J.H. never legally adopted her.
After eight years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce. The mother did not promptly take action in response to the husband’s filing, which led to a default judgment in the divorce. That default judgment said that J.H. would have 100% timesharing with the children except for visits with the mother that were subject to J.H.’s approval. The judgment also said that the two would share parental responsibility for decision-making but that J.H. would hold tie-breaking authority in all areas.
The appeals court reversed that judgment. One of the reasons for that reversal was that the judgment gave J.H. custody, timesharing and visitation rights over all three children. Even though J.H. (by the appeals court’s own statement) had been the father figure in the oldest child’s life, he was a non-parent of that child under Florida law. Since the statute that dictates timesharing and visitation rights, “applies only to parents’ visitation rights and does not extend to nonparents,” people like J.H., regardless of the role they play in a child’s life, have no right to timesharing under Florida law if they are not a legal parent (either as a biological parent or adoptive parent.)
The impact this law can have on your family
This ruling is very important for a lot of people raising children in Florida. There are many people who may be serving in a parent-like role but are not legal parents. They may be the same-sex spouse or partner of a biological parent. They may be the heterosexual stepparent of the child. They often are, as J.H. was, the only father (or mother) figure a child has ever known. In some states, those facts may be enough to give you legal status and certain rights in relation to that child, but Florida is not one of those states.
This case makes it fairly clear that, here in Florida, the facts regarding the role you play are, by themselves, not enough. You may be a stepfather who married the child’s biological mother when the child was an infant and have served as her father figure her whole life. You may be the long-term lesbian partner/spouse of a woman who, because of marriage equality’s delayed arrival in Florida, only married your spouse after she had delivered the child you two share.
Whatever the exact situation, if you are not a biological parent and are not an adoptive parent, you generally have fewer rights in Florida. The courts have explicitly said that those “who claim parentage on some basis other than biology or legal status do not have the same rights, including the right to visitation, as the biological or legal parents.”
If that’s you, it’s extremely important that you get the legal advice you need and promptly take the legal steps necessary to protect your relationship with all your children – including your non-biological ones. Count on the experienced South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. to give you reliable advice and effective legal strategies to accomplish a stepparent adoption or other family-related goals. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.