Stepparents, grandparents and legal guardians would for the first time be able to seek a court ruling to spend time with children after a divorce under a bill that passed the Senate Friday.

SB186, which passed 22-7, makes several parent-time amendments in state law for non-parents, in particular granting them legal standing to petition the court for visitation time with children they helped raise but often don't get to see after a divorce.

The bill doesn't grant visitation to stepparents, but it provides them with the legal standing to try, said sponsoring Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. It doesn't mitigate the authority of the biological parent nor it is it to be used just to prolong bitter feelings that may have resulted from the divorce.

Partially motivating the proposal is the rapidly increasing number of grandparents who have taken on the responsibility of raising a grandchild because of divorce or other circumstance but whose rights aren't defined in the law.

A change was also suggested by the Utah Supreme Court. A year ago the court found that a domestic partner in a separated same-sex couple had no right under Utah law to seek visitation of her ex-partner's biological daughter.

The lesbian couple had agreed to have a child and raise it together, then separated when the child was 2 years old.

The ex-partner petitioned and received a lower-court ruling granting visitation. The judge said it was in the best interest of the child to have both women involved in the child's life.

It may have been in the child's best interest, but granting visitation is not afforded the ex-partner under Utah law, the Supreme Court ruled in striking down the decision. In order for visitation to be granted, current law would have to be changed, the ruling stated.

SB186 is that proposed change.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, said he plans to vote in favor of it, "but it is half a loaf." It could be a lot more inclusive, and while it does good for some, there are at least 1,200 children in Utah being raised by same-sex couples who will still have no legal standing, he said.

"They could go to court, state their involvement and let the judge decide," McCoy said. "But it's not for me to stand here and say, 'We don't get ours so you can't have yours."'


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