What legal rights do step-parents have?

toddler and parents on a walk

Family structures come in all shapes and sizes. As divorce rates have continued to remain steady for years, blended families and step-parent relationships have continued to be on the rise. With step-parenting becoming more common during many children’s formative year’s, many people are recognizing the important bond that still forms between parents and their non-biological children. Until 2000 the courts had often failed to acknowledge the importance of the step-parent/step-child relationship often failing to include the step-parent in any post-divorce custody situations. Now the courts have begun to acknowledge the bond and relationship development between step-parents and the children they help to raise and step-parents are now a larger part of the consideration during visitation and custody proceedings.

What rights will a step-parent have in a child custody case?

This more recent shift in court decisions is most likely based on the fact that children often form an emotional bond with the non-biological parent and the court is tasked with acting in the best interest of the child physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In some states, courts will even allow step-parents to file for joint custody of their non-biological children if they can prove to be a stable part in their life and share a loving and nurturing relationship with them. This can be especially true in cases where the step-parent provided much of the care, guidance, and interaction with the child where the biological parent was more distant or had a less strong relationship.

Cam step-parents get visitation rights even if they do not have custody?

Unless the step-parent is considered a danger to the child or unfit to be around them, the court will often recognize the relationship between a step-parent and child and the psychological need the child will have to continue this relationship. If the step-parent has been involved and has a good relationship with the child, the court will often give visitation to the step-parent, but the natural parent will retain the rights to make the decision for the child unless the natural parent has awarded temporary custody to the step-parent.

What rights does a step-parent have in the event of the biological parent’s death?

In the event that a natural parent dies, the court will most often place the child with natural relatives even if the parent has specified their new spouse to regain custody. In recent years, many courts may consider placing custody with the step-parent if the relatives have had minimal contact with the child throughout their life, it means relocating or uprooting the child, or if they feel it might be damaging to the child’s psychological or emotional state. When a natural parent dies, the primary goal of the court is to find the best option to provide stability and continuity for the child to get them through the difficult time and if the step-parent can provide that best, they will consider them.

What do courts look at when determining a step-parent’s rights?

As stated before, the court is there to determine what is best for the child and how to create the most stable environment for them. When it comes to custody or visitation of a step-parent, they will look at how involved the step parent was in the care, raising, and day-to-day life of the child. Additionally, they will be concerned with the frequency that the stepparent and child see each other. This can be especially true in the event a natural parent wants to relocate the child. If the step-parent only sees the child a couple of times a month the relocation will be more likely to proceed, but if the step-parent sees the child on a regular basis such as multiple days per week, the court may not allow the natural parent to move the child as they feel it may be too much of a disruption to the child’s life.

With the court system now recognizing the inherent bond that can form between a child and a parent that is not biologically related to them step-parents have a brighter outlook when it comes to child custody and visitation rights in court settings.

Image by Mabel Amber, still incognito… from Pixabay