A woman who lived with a child’s biological mother, whom she married under Canadian law, was not a “person with a legitimate interest” in visitation with the child, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled today.
The child, born in 1996, was four years old when her biological mom and dad divorced. The child lived with her mother and had visitation with her father. In late 2002, the mother’s girlfriend moved in, and their relationship lasted for about a year and nine months.
Child protective workers investigated the family in 2003, on a report that the child was frequently home alone after school. Her extended family intervened and a trial court gave shared custody to the maternal grandmother and the father. The juvenile court ordered the parties to the custody dispute not to allow the child to have any contact with the mother’s girlfriend. Her relationship with the mother ended in 2005.
Against the wishes of the child and both her biological parents, the former girlfriend sought visitation with the child.
Virginia law allows for court-ordered visitation between a child and a person with “a legitimate interest,” a category that covers, but is not limited to, grandparents, stepparents, former stepparents, blood relatives and family members.
But a person seeking visitation has to prove she is in one of those specified categories, or there is some factual basis for being regarded as a “functional equivalent” of one of the relationships recognized under Virginia Code § 20-124.1.
The petitioner’s marriage to the child’s mother in Canada “created neither a family nor a stepparent relationship” between the child and the petitioner, the appellate panel said. Their marriage was “void in all respects” under Virginia law.
Although the petitioner said she helped the child get ready for school in the morning for several months, the mother testified that her former partner and the child were “friendly together,” but their relationship was not “particularly unique.”
The appellate court upheld denial of visitation by a Virginia Beach Circuit Court, in Damon v. York.