Blood isn’t always thicker than water. These days, people often choose their family members. This is evident in the relationship between an adult and their stepchild. After years of bonding, sometimes from infancy, the “step” part of the relationship becomes irrelevant. These two are family members, and they have a genuine parent/child relationship.
This fact can make divorce terrifying for a stepparent. Suddenly, they are faced with the fear of losing the person they consider their child, even if the law doesn’t officially recognize their parenthood.
Luckily, the law has awakened to the importance of stepparent/stepchild relationships in the last couple of decades. Today, stepparents have more rights than in previous generations.
In this article, we will discuss your options for keeping contact with your stepchildren post-divorce.
Stepparent Child Custody
For now, there are no options for stepparents to earn custody of their stepkids. To gain any form of custody rights, a stepparent must legally adopt.
Adopting can be difficult, especially when your marriage to the child’s parent is falling apart. Out of spite, the parent could attempt to block this action. Even if they don’t oppose the adoption, other relatives may try getting in the way.
One way to sidestep this problem is by demonstrating your value to the child. Courts always operate in a child’s best interests. With the help of your legal team, you can argue that your involvement is best for the child’s wellbeing. It will also be helpful to show how staying in the child’s life will benefit the other parent as well.
Adoption, of course, is impossible when the child has two living parents. At least one must give up their parental rights first.
You may have concerns about the child’s legal parents. At least one of them may be unfit, posing a danger to the child. In this case, you may be able to plead to the court to have this adult’s parental rights removed. Doing so requires clear, solid evidence, and you will need the help of a good attorney.
Unfit parenting includes abandoning the child. If a parent cannot be located, this could qualify as abandonment. The same is true for parents who have had no contact with their children for over a year. Other examples of unfit parenting include a failure to support the child or evidence of abuse.
It may be possible to secure visitation rights to your stepchildren. These rights cannot be blocked by either of the child’s other parents. Visitation includes spending scheduled days or nights with the kids. It may also take the form of electronic communications such as video chats or phone calls. Both forms of visitation are treated with equal seriousness, and the other parent cannot interfere.
Securing these rights requires proving that your continued involvement is in the child’s best interests. You must convince the court that the child will flourish with your inclusion in their life. With a strong enough argument, you could secure visitation despite opposition from the child’s legal parents.
Stepparent Child Support Rights
Child support is a privilege, and it helps keep people involved in their kid’s life and welfare.
To gain the right to pay child support as a stepparent, you can choose to act “in loco parentis.” In simple terms, this means that you have volunteered to take on certain parental responsibilities. In loco parentis allows you to treat the child as your own, despite the lack of blood relation.
Alternatively, you must be aware of the estoppel doctrine. This prevents stepparents from backing out of their chosen obligations. If your relationship with the child changes, and you need to move on, make sure that you modify your child support responsibilities first. Suddenly cutting off child support could bring harm to the child, and this could open you up to litigation from the other parent.
Talk With an Attorney
When it comes to divorce, all parental issues are complicated. Being a stepparent further muddies the issue. If you are facing a divorce and are worried about your future relationship with your stepchildren, contact a skilled lawyer for help. They may be able to guide your next steps, and they can represent you for the benefit of your stepkids.
For help with stepparents’ rights, call our firm today at (949) 565-4158. We can give you a consultation and help you decide what to do next. You can also contact us online.