RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – This story is a cautionary tale for any parent with a child who considers co-habitating with someone else. Steve Benjamin, our legal expert joins us to explain why.
Ryan Nobles: Virginia law makes some exceptions in cases like this even for someone is not their biological parent but is an important part of their life?
Steve Benjamin: That sums it up but a good place to begin is a recognition that parents have a fundamental constitutional right to make child rearing decisions, even bad ones to a certain extent. And let's be clear that a single parent can certainly date somebody else without risking or compromising that right. But as you point out, if you're a single parent and you make a decision to invite somebody you're dating to come live with you, obviously that's a big decision. And what you've got to take into context there is how that might affect your child, and you've got to begin viewing that through your child's eyes. What Virginia law says is that if only a person with a legitimate interest in seeking custody or visitation can go into court to seek that kind of award, and if they can demonstrate to the court that they are a legitimate person with interest, not just a casual person you were dating, then they would have to prove that there would be harm to the child should visitation be denied.
Ryan Nobles: And that is a pretty high bar.
Steve Benjamin: Very high.
Ryan Nobles: Especially when they are not he biological parent.
Steve Benjamin: Exactly right, but let's look at certain hypothetical factors. Obviously I know nothing about this case. I certainly don't know anything about that legal fee except to note that you don't wake up one day and have a fee of $130,000. You get monthly billings on that. I don't know what was going on there. But in any event, if, for example, you call the other person a parent, if you identify them as a parent, if you live together as partners, family partners, if you live together for a protracted period of time, let's say, four years, if you share parenting responsibilities, if no matter what the legal status of your partner is, if it appears to a judge that your child may be viewing that person as a parent, an adult who has parental duties and supervision, then the judge is going to have sufficient concern to hear you out and determine whether the denial of visitation might harm that child.
Ryan Nobles: So it's an important thing for someone to keep in mind if they decide to take that step, particularly moving in with someone that isn't your child's parent.
Steve Benjamin: It's as basic as this - every decision you make as a parent must be taken into the consideration of the perspective of your child.
Ryan Nobles: Okay. Thanks.
See the video at right for the full interview.