Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Custody and Visitation: Upon Divorce, Ex Stepparents Have No Standing to Petition Visitation

Strauss v. Tuschman, 2009 UT App. 215, (Utah Court of Appeals, August 6, 2009).
Stepfather developed a parental relationship with Daughter, a child from Mother’s prior relationship. Upon separation, Stepfather requested visitation with the child. Mother allowed it, and the district court granted Stepfather visitation. Visitation became increasing difficult to facilitate. The district court bifurcated the case and signed a divorce decree. Stepfather continued to attempt visitation. Mother now objected to visitation. The district court continued to enforce Father’s visitation under Gribble v. Gribble, 583 P.25 (Utah 1978).
Prior to the trial Mother filed a motion in limine arguing that Stepfather had no standing under the newly decided case of Jones v. Barlow, 154 P.3d 808 (Utah 2007). This time the district court agreed and found that Stepfather lacked standing. Stepfather appealed. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and found that while parties are married a non-biological father may stand in loco parentis and may have standing to petition visitation. However, upon divorce the biological parent may end the in loco parentis relationship at will. Thus eliminating Stepparent’s standing.
Unrelated note: the Court did not award attorney fees to mother because she failed to set forth a legal basis for such an award.

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