Sandra Bullock and Jesse James Divorce: What About the Kids?

As nearly everyone who follows celebrity news knows by now, Sandra Bullock has filed for divorce from her husband Jesse James in the wake of a cheating scandal. Following the divorce news, came the news that Sandra Bullock has adopted a baby boy from New Orleans. Jesse also has three kids from previous relationships, one of whom Jesse and Sandra have had sole custody of since November 2009. Sandra Bullock has stated that she “can’t imagine life without [her stepchildren] and will continue to co-parent.” However, Bullock may be facing an uphill battle if she plans to request custody or even visitation with her soon to be “ex”- stepchildren.

Sandra Bullock never legally adopted any of Jesse James’ children. Thus, as soon as her marriage to Jesse James ends, so does any legal relationship she may have with her stepchildren. The children already have two legal parents, and unless either of the parents are deemed unfit, the law presumes that they act in the best interests of their children. Special weight must be given to their decisions about who should be able to spend time with their children. Troxel v. Granville (2000) 530 U.S. 57.

Under California law “the court may grant reasonable visitation to a stepparent, if visitation by the stepparent is determined to be in the best interests of the minor child.” Family Code §3101. However, visitation rights may not be granted to a stepparent if that would conflict with a right of custody or visitation of a birth parent. As such, if the mother of any of Jesse James’ children objected to Sandra Bullock having visitation, the court would have to give the mother’s opinion at least “special weight.” Even if the court did grant Bullock visitation rights, any such rights would likely be minimal, compared to what she may have had before the divorce.

Bullock’s best chance to have visitation with Jesse James’ children would be to work out an agreement with the mother and Jesse James. In that case, the parties could work together to figure out what would be in the children’s best interests.

If you have questions about custody or visitation rights as they pertain to stepchildren and/or stepparents, call Mello & Pickering, LLP for a free 20 minute phone consultation or a one hour in person meeting at (408) 288-7800. We are committed to working with you to figure out what your rights are and how best to pursue those rights.