Do Stepparents Have Rights in Oregon?

small boy holding the hand of an adult man - steppparents rights concept
A stepparent often plays a very important role in the lives of their stepchildren and may develop strong emotional bonds with them as they grow up. They might even assume the role of being the primary caretaker for their stepchildren. In such situations, it can be particularly devastating for the child if the stepparent and biological parent decide to part ways. If you are a stepparent who is divorcing your stepchild’s biological parent, you might be wondering about stepparent rights and asking yourself, “what legal rights do stepparents have?”

Stepparent Rights in Oregon

Under Oregon law, biological and adoptive parents have a legal obligation to ensure their child’s needs are met. In addition to having custody rights, they also have a responsibility to pay child support. Upon marriage, a stepparent does not become their stepchild’s legal parent or have the same rights and obligations of a legal parent. However, a stepparent can become the legal parent of their stepchild — and assume the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent — through adoption. In order to adopt their stepchild, a stepparent must obtain the consent of the child’s biological parents (as well as the consent of the child if they are 14 or older). Critically, stepparent adoption ultimately means that the non-custodial biological parent must give up their legal parental rights. If the biological parent does not consent to the adoption, the legal proceedings can be much more complicated. However, consent may not be needed from a biological parent for a stepparent to adopt their stepchild if that biological parent abandoned the child for a period of 12 months or more. When a stepparent adopts their stepchild, they not only formalize the relationship, but they will have the legal authority to obtain medical care for the child, enroll them in activities, and pick them up from school. They can also make important decisions on the child’s behalf if the biological parent is unavailable or out of town — or they become incapacitated and cannot care for the child. If the child’s biological parent passes away, stepparent adoption allows the stepparent to have the legal right to custody. In the event the stepparent and biological parent decide to part ways and divorce, the stepparent would have custody and visitation rights.

What Legal Rights Does a Stepparent Have When it Comes to Custody or Visitation?

While the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent do not automatically extend to stepparents in Oregon, there is an exception. Under Oregon’s Psychological Parent doctrine, a stepparent who did not legally adopt their stepchild may be able to obtain custody or visitation rights. Importantly, the law recognizes that child-parent relationships can be created between a child and their stepparent, foster parent, grandparent, or another relative by blood or marriage. If a stepparent has established a parent and child relationship or emotional ties and an ongoing relationship with the child, they may petition the court for custody or visitation if the biological parent refuses to allow visitation after divorce. In addition to proving that there is either a parent and child relationship or an ongoing relationship (complicated legal standards), to prevail in obtaining custody or visitation of a stepchild, a step parent would have to have to establish that the biological parent or parents are failing to act in the child’s best interests. Oregon law presumes that the legal parent acts in the best interests of a child. However, this presumption may be rebutted if certain criteria are met, including but not limited to the following:
  • The stepparent is or has recently been the child’s primary caretaker
  • Denying relief would be detrimental to the child
  • The legal parent has fostered, encouraged, or consented to the relationship between the child and stepparent
  • Stepparent visitation would not substantially interfere with the parent’s custodial relationship
  • The legal parent has unreasonably denied or limited contact between the stepparent and child
The court may also look at evidence of other relevant factors when determining whether stepparent visitation would be in the child’s best interests. In addition, a judge may consider custody matters under the statute. Specifically, a court can determine whether to award custody or guardianship rights to a stepparent who was recently the child’s primary caretaker in the event the legal parent is unwilling or unable to care for the child. The statute also provides that a stepparent may file for post-judgment modification of a judgment relating to child custody.

Contact an Experienced Oregon Family Law Attorney to Discuss Stepparent Rights

If you’re considering adopting your stepchild, it’s important to have the representation of a compassionate and knowledgeable adoption attorney who can advise you regarding your rights and help you navigate the process. Based in Salem, Litowich Law works with families throughout Oregon for a variety of adoption matters, including stepparent adoption. Providing dedicated representation and committed counsel, we welcome you to contact us for a consultation to learn how we can assist you.
Categories: Child Custody