Grandparent & Stepparent Rights

Strictly speaking, Virginia law allows grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents and other people who have "a legitimate interest" in the care of a child to petition a court for an award of custody or visitation rights. On a practical level, however, this is a very difficult goal to accomplish without guidance and representation from an experienced lawyer.

At Duff Kronfeld & Marquardt P.C., we understand the legal difficulties and obstacles involved with pursuing stepparent and grandparents rights over the objections of one or both natural parents. We also understand how important this family law issue is to you.

Seeking Custody While A Parent Is Still Alive

If you are seeking custody of a child who has at least one natural living parent, the task is difficult but not impossible, and requires a two-step process:

  • The first hurdle to overcome is the legal presumption that children's best interests are served when custody and decision-making rights are held by natural parents. This presumption can be rebutted with clear and convincing evidence of parental unfitness (e.g. active addiction issues or a history of domestic violence), abandonment, prior termination of the natural parent's rights (voluntarily or involuntarily) or special facts and circumstances.
  • After rebutting this presumption, grandparents and stepparents are no longer on unequal footing with natural parents, but still have to overcome a second hurdle - proving that an award of custody rights would serve the best interests of the children in question.

Visitation Rights Of Stepparents And Grandparents

Securing visitation rights as a grandparent or stepparent is somewhat easier, though still requires clear and convincing evidence. In essence, if both natural parents object to visitation, a court must find that there would be actual harm to a child's physical health or welfare to award visitation rights. If one or both natural parents object, the court must also find that awarding visitation would serve the best interests of the children.

Experienced And Understanding Legal Assistance Is Available

If you have questions regarding third-party custody or visitation rights under Virginia law, or the process for completing a stepparent adoption, contact an attorney at Duff Kronfeld & Marquardt P.C. in Fairfax by calling 703-591-7475 or by contacting us online. All consultations are completely confidential.