Being a step-parent during your spouse’s divorce can mean watching where you step. How could your actions impact the view of your love to the judge?
In this episode, Justin Sisemore and Andrea Jones explore the step-parent side of divorce, the importance of understanding where they stand during the legal process and how they could negatively impact the final outcome.
Justin and Andrea discuss:
- Why step parents need to step back during the divorce proceedings
- The importance of ensuring a new relationship goes well for both the adults and any children
- What boundaries step parents need to abide by
- How to legally adopt a stepchild from a divorce while the other parent is still alive
- And more!
Connect with Justin Sisemore
- Instagram: Justin Sisemore
Connect with Andrea Jones:
Read the Show Transcript
[00:00:00] Nobody wants to end up in family court, but if you do, you want an honest, experienced family law attorney by your side to help minimize the stress, mental anguish, and legal costs that divorce and custody matters bring. Welcome to In Your Best Interest. Texas divorce attorney and entrepreneur, Justin Sisemore of the Sisemore Law Firm entrepreneur, Andrea Jones, freelance writer Mary Maloney, and guests share insight on what to expect and how to handle family law matters, the changing landscape of family law and living the entrepreneur’s life.
Now onto the show. In today’s world, many children are not raised in traditional homes. For example, when a child’s parents’ divorce stepparents often enter the picture. In this episode of In Your Best Interest, we’ll discuss step parenting, dos and don’ts, stepparent rights, and what to expect if you are a stepparent, hoping to [00:01:00] adopt your stepchildren.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of In Your Best Interest. I’m Mary Maloney, and today, attorney Justin Sisemore, entrepreneur Andrea Jones and I will address some common questions and legal issues that involve stepparents. So Justin, as an attorney, you often deal with, um, child custody cases where stepparents are involved.
So in general, what rights do stepparents have when it comes to parenting in Texas? I know that’s one of the most common questions the firm hears. Oh, stepparents. Some of my favorite and least favorite people in a divorce or child custody case, and I’ll tell you why. So first and foremost, as far as specific rights, you generally don’t see a stepparent having any enumerated rights in a temporary order or in a final order.
What you generally see are restrictions or injunctions prohibiting certain behavior. So when I say my [00:02:00] least favorite, it means that you are the stepparent that needs to inject yourself into every communication, uh, with your spouse and or boyfriend or girlfriend. Well, I guess if you’re stepparent, you’d be the spouse.
Uh, but as far as the kids are concerned. And so, um, when I get the client calls where the, let’s say it’s the father who is the prospective client and his wife is interrupting him and telling me everything about their case, I automatically put my antennas up because what that is telling me, even though I tell the client, Hey, listen, and, and stepmom or stepdad, please understand, I, I respect you, you and I wanna listen to you and I want to hear you.
But I need to know that the perspective client can tell the story in a manner, uh, that makes sense. And I start that in the consult. So when I have the least favorite stepparent, they’ll start in, in interjecting again. Well, he doesn’t know this and he doesn’t understand this. And, and, and what happens [00:03:00] there is that leads to fast forward about two months later and you start to find out that stepmom or stepdad is Saying some not so nice things via text message to, uh, bio mom or dad.
And, um, you know, also injecting, um, their will upon the child. And so that comes out in a courtroom, uh, in the form of child counselors or, uh, social studies. and when you, the court finds out that stepparent is assuming the mantle and violating court rules or procedures or injunctions, uh, or making some very nasty and not so nice remarks, the word, what rights do they have does not even come into the equation. It’s how much can we restrict them from this behavior? And you wanna see a, a judge on fire, uh, get a stepparent in there that really is gonna tell, uh, the other party, uh, and or the bio mom or dad and the child, how, [00:04:00] uh, they’re going to act and interact and, and all that. So, As far as rights go, I would again say, uh, stepparents don’t really have a lot of rights, and it is a very tough role.
That’s why there’s, uh, movies made about it, right? Um, it’s a, it’s a situation that’s never easy because you are injecting, uh, new feelings, new boundaries, new emotions to the old. Um, and, you know, the, the bio parents don’t necessarily want to adopt to your new feelings or your new boundaries or new rules for the kids or, or how you’re, you’re gonna communicate.
Um, and so I just think it’s really important, uh, for all clients to hear this. If I have a bad stepparent, I can assure you I will not represent you very long. So if you, if you have that person that needs to tell me everything about your spouse, please call someone else. Uh, and that’s important to say it that bluntly because I don’t want a [00:05:00] client to feel like I’m not listening to them.
I, I’m very concerned, uh, about whatever emotions they’re going through, but I’ve got to be able to do my job and when I have third parties, Inject their will and they don’t really know what they’re talking about or they don’t pay their bill, and they’re certainly not included in the orders as far as rights are concerned.
It, it’s a big problem. . So you, you said you also have those stepparents that you do love. So there are, you know, some, some really good stepparents out there that are very well-intentioned, but sometimes they do overstep their bounds. Can you kinda share some common mistakes that stepparents make? Um, you already shared some, obviously talking a little bit too much as well as some, you know, perhaps good general rules of thumb that they should consider when they’re in that situation. Yeah, I, I think that, um, one of the most beautiful things in the world with respect to stepparents to change gears from the negative, um, cause I’m a glass half full guy, is that, uh, you know, stepparents can really [00:06:00] come in and impact a child in magical ways. My wife has beautiful, beautiful stepfamily, Andrea’s, you know, beautiful stepfamily.
We’ve, we’ve all seen the success story, so don’t hear me say and be all negative Nancy about stepfamilies. They’re, they, they oftentimes, uh, people become more mature. One party doesn’t evolve. Uh, there’s, you know, one party’s a bad actor. They commit adultery or, you know, abuse or alcohol or drug addiction, and the other parent needs to step out of that because they’ve become the more mature party.
Uh, and they evolve with a step, a step. You know, parent, step wife, step husband. I guess that’s not step husband. Husband or wife that you remarry. Uh, and so when you do that, uh, you’re seeing the evolution in many times, in many cases in a very positive light. Now the child’s seeing what it should be like with two normal parents that love each other.
Uh, and so [00:07:00] those, those step families are, uh, the ones in my my opinion, that that do it right. But even, even when you have this. You know, wonderful situation. You still have those issues like you just asked Mary. So, you know, I think the main thing is if you can. At some point sit down with the other other parent and just say those very words that Andrea’s talked about before in our podcast.
I know I’m not their mom. If they if, or dad, if they, if they call me mom or dad, I just want you to know from me that I’m going to tell them, uh, that you know that I am here and I love you, but this is your mom and I’m gonna to absolutely supportive of whatever boundaries you put up. And I just want to open the line of communication.
Here’s my number. If you need anything or you want me to do anything for you, please, uh, just feel free to reach out. And you know, I tell clients this sometimes and they’re like, you don’t know my ex. And I’m like, I get it. Right? Uh, but if you do that and [00:08:00] you take the wind out of the sails a little. And let’s say for example, bio mom or dad never comes around and uh, you know, as far as their way of thinking, and in fact they continue to harass you, berate you and all that stuff, and you’ve got those very clear and nice communications that are open-ended.
What you’re gonna see is now all of a sudden the courts are like, wait a minute. , we’ve actually got the good stepparent, right? I said there’s the bad one in the beginning. There’s the good ones too, right? And this person is actually the most normal individual here because they don’t have all the emotional baggage that comes with the breakup, and they are the neutralizer, the buffer, for the child.
There’s no reason, uh, other than the child just loves that environment. Right? That may be why the child’s so nice to that stepparent and it’s okay, right? I think the biggest thing I tell clients is, I had like 50 people raise me when I was a kid. Okay. And you know, I, I’m not saying that I’m the most normal human in the world, but we got a lot of things right.
because of all of the people, [00:09:00] all of the cultures, all of the backgrounds, all of the orientation, all of that stuff. So you don’t need to polarize and just, I’m bio, so I must be right. We all know that there’s a lot of, uh, benefit to people that love children and you know, I just think it’s important to not try to impose your will so much on the don’ts.
Right. And not try to Well, I’m gonna, I’m. Be there to pick up the child. I don’t care what the ex says. If the ex, if that bothers the ex, don’t go right. Find an alternative. Just take yourself out of the equation as much as possible. And just remember there’s baggage that comes with two people getting a divorce that have a kid or two people, uh, that have a child that separate and are no longer together.
There’s baggage that comes with that, and you might be on the backside of that kicking mule one day. So just remember, do unto others as you would have done unto. I love that. So Andrea, I would love to have you hop in here because you’ve seen both, as Justin mentioned, you’ve seen both [00:10:00] sides of the step parenting world, both as a stepparent and as a parent who’s had to work with another parent who is step parenting your kids.
So can you share any words of advice from your perspective, any lessons that you’ve learned? Yeah, I, I, I love to, so I think the first. I don’t know. I think I’ve never shared that before, but I think before you enter even a stepparent situation, you need to make sure this is the right thing for you. Cuz it’s not easy.
So it’s easy. You meet somebody, you love that person, and then you wanna move on and you wanna enter a family. There’s stepkids involved. That is not easy. I mean, we had my husband now and I, we each had four kids. and before we even moved on, two, were already out the house, but before we even decided to move on, we brought all those six kids together when we were serious about each other and we were very clear if the kids do not get along, cuz they’re all little, they’re we’re between three and 12.
I think if the kids do not get along, we cannot move forward. We were very clear about that. And some people just ignored it or they’re gonna get along and [00:11:00] it’s gonna work out somehow. If the kids are little, they potentially have another 10, 15 years together. And if there’s just no getting along, that’s already a.
You’re setting yourself up for a lot of heartache and a lot of bad situations. So I think that’s something, again, put yourself second focus on the kids, right? So don’t, that’s the first step. Um, Justin said that I’m always a big proponent of honor, mom or dad, biological parent. I’ve always. Taken myself out of the situation.
I don’t, I did not with the kids of, with my step, um, stepkids when the mom came around, I was never hugging, kissing, doing all the stuff in front of her, cuz I know the other way around that happened to me, and I know how painful that was. To have somebody else kiss your little kids on the mouth and tell them I love them.
That they, that they love them. That’s just, that’s unnecessary, right. If you do that behind closed doors, okay. But in front of the parent, honor the. Honor the biological parent, even if you don’t like them, but make sure that kids always [00:12:00] hear from you, this is your mom, this is your dad, and, and that they understand that.
Another tip is be involved. Justin said, don’t get over-involved. I agree. But if you raise kids, you need to be involved. You need to respect. back, mom and dad, but you still need to know what’s going on because if they live in your house and you are kind of removed from what decisions the, uh, the biological parent, for example, makes with the mom and you are, uh, n not involved in those decisions, then you have to handle those situations in your house.
So that does not mean that you go to court and share your opinion there, but you should know what they decide and, and maybe. In my situation, give my husband my opinion and then he can share, we can discuss, and then he can go to mom and then we’ll find a solution. So you need to know what’s going on.
That is also a big thing for respect. If you are always constantly removed out of everything, the kids don’t take you serious. Another thing, kids, especially in those situations, they’re traumatized from divorce, so you [00:13:00] need to show a lot more grace and a lot more love than you would normally do. I was devastated when I.
Entering the situation cuz I’ve always thought like I need to love my stepkids the exact same way that I love my own kids. Here’s a little disclaimer. You will never love your stepkids as much as you love your own kids. I think the only situation that happens is if you never had kids, but if you have biological kids as a mom, it’s hard to love your step kids the exact same way you love them and you love them a lot.
But, but I always found that I talked to a lot of, lot of other stepmoms . They, they’re always gonna be little less. So now you have, to me, make extra sure that you treat them fair in your house and show them a lot of love, cuz otherwise they’re sense that, so it’s in your head, but it’s, it’s, it’s not easy. And then somebody told me this and I thought that was so interesting.
And for that it’s also not easy. Cause in nature, think about nature. A lion would never raise the lion cubs of another dude. He would kill them. So I think for, for a step dad, thinking about how raising that’s nature, right? So, [00:14:00] We are humans, we’re not gonna kill our step kids. I’m just saying in nature, that goes against nature to raise somebody else’s, some other man’s kids.
So I think it’s not easy for for dads to step in and do the same thing. So, but again, you have to show extra love. And the love is so important. My husband is a Marine and he’s very into, into respect, and I always told him, discipline is great, but discipline without love is punishment. So I think step.
Have to be very careful that they don’t become just a disciplinarian and step up. So show a lot of love to those step kids and understand that they come with a lot of baggage. And then the last thing, it is hard, I think as a new husband or wife, if the ex is crazy because you wa you love your now husband or wife to not step in, say nasty things.
Especially as a guy, my husband was he struggle. And he did a lot of stuff that he shouldn’t have done and said a lot of things he shouldn’t have said. But if you see the ex [00:15:00] mistreating your wife, for example, it’s very hard to stay quiet, right? It’s very hard. There were some very harsh words exchanged when they met each other because he saw the stupid stuff my ex did, and as my husband, he wants to protect me, but it’s not helping your court case.
So you can tell your friends, you can rage in front of your friends and, and share with them how stupid the other person is, whatever. But just be careful what you do in public, what you do via text message or email where it can be seen. Again, that also goes against your nature. But you guys just gotta be careful cause it can hurt your case.
Uh, if you, if you just show what you would like or tell ’em what you would like to do, , that’s very dangerous, but it’s, again, it’s hard. It’s not easy to. Yeah, Mary, I think one of the things that I, I wanted to mention or follow up on Andrea’s point is being involved. Don’t hear me say, just kind of put your head in the sand if you’re a stepparent and don’t be involved.
I want you to be engaged as a stepparent, but with the boundaries of recognizing what the bio [00:16:00] parent actually wants. Right? So when a stepparent is asking things like, Hey, do you need any help with, uh, you know, taking the. Here or in, you know, to whatever, if, if the, if the immediate feedback from the bio parent is, no, I don’t need your help.
Uh, okay, just let me know when, uh, I’m here to help and, and just leave it at that and, and don’t, don’t respond with some conclusion or whatever. They’re crazy. They’re never gonna be this, I always tell clients, I never use the word never. In a, in a scenario when you’re dealing with third parties or, uh, child custody cases or divorce cases, because I have seen massive turnarounds in humans in the course of litigation.
So when you’re dealing with boundaries and the word never, or you know, Andrea says, you’ll, you’ll never love your step kids as much. Some people may. Right. But it’s, but as a general rule of thumb, she’s spot on. And people won’t say that. It’s like, you know, guys never say, or generally can’t say, I, I love babies, or I don’t love [00:17:00] babies as much.
Right. It just sounds insensitive. But the reality is there’s some truth to some of it. And you you need to prepare yourself for some of these truths that we can’t say anymore. Right. So that’s why I brought it up. Yeah. It’s great. Cause again, I was like, I was beating myself up that I couldn’t, and then when I talked to other moms, they said the same thing.
And again, never is a bad word, but many of them cannot. And that’s, and that’s what I want people to understand, to not beat yourself up if, if you are in that situation, understand it is a normal thing. If you’re not the only one. And again, In Germany, we’re more open. We just say stuff like that here.
Everybody, not every, again, not everybody, many people wanna pretend that happy, everything is great, but it’s, it sucks being a stepparent sometimes. It sucks. It’s not easy. It’s not easy. And, and that’s why I said at the beginning, set yourself up for a lot of heart heartache, a lot of arguments because you’re gonna gonna get into those situations where your partner tells you, you just let me notice, do this my way with my ex-wife or ex-husband.
And you were like, well, were you married to Mina? No. , those are the parents and they need to handle [00:18:00] the situation and you just need to step back. That’s not easy, but that’s just how the, how it has to. I know we’re segueing into the adoption question with, with, with stepparents in just a minute, but, but I do think it’s important.
Um, you know, as far as what Andrea just said, set, set those boundaries. Have open communication. Make sure that all your responses, uh, you know, I always talk about bullets for the gun. If you. Legitimately just say to the stepparent or to the bio parent, Hey, is there anything I can do to help? And they respond in a negative way.
Or like Andrea said, they, they then jump the other spouse and say all these terrible things. If you have a good lawyer, all you have to do is bring that in front of the judge, right? They will make corrective measures. They will make people pay attorney’s fees. They will enforce these injunctions. They will put people in jail.
They will do some drastic measures if it’s a continuous pattern of behavior. And so what we try to do is clear out the cobwebs and make sure that the cupboard’s [00:19:00] clean. And some of that is just telling the stepparents, Hey, look. This is how you’re gonna act. Andrea just pointed out it’s not easy. It’s not fun, but when you get on the same page like my wife’s parents, we were just two days ago in a barn out of the middle of Texoma with all of the step families.
and we had a freaking blast. And I can assure you that it’s just funny. Like, to me, it’s funny, it’s like, you know, my step, my, my father-in-law, he runs around and he’s got his ex-wife in there. They’re watching old movies about the wedding and he’s trying not to make a mistake to upset his wife, that true wife, the love of his life.
Like, but you know, he, it’s, he’s just got such a blind eye to it now because of the co-parenting relationship that they had growing up. And I can tell you that it’s made my wife the rockstar that she. Uh, you see other people, and I don’t wanna say in that barn because somebody may listen to this in the family, but you see other people that are very toxic and venomous, right?
And those toxic and venomous people raise toxic and venomous children or children that have [00:20:00] extreme emotional issues. And we also saw that. And so when you start doing all these things that you think are helping the world, I can assure you the reason why I say I’m out or please don’t come here is because I am.
On board with people, treating people in a manner that is less than respectful. I’m not on board with people raising bad humans as a result. And if you’re doing these things like interjecting yourself and you need to be that person, we are definitely not the right fit. Great point. So let’s, uh, let’s do segue into legally adopting your stepchildren and it’s not always possible.
So let’s first talk about when you would not be able to do that, when that’s not an. Well, first of all, to, in order to do an adoption, um, you have to have a termination of the parental rights unless the other party is obviously deceased, right? So, One of the questions I get often is, well, the bio dad or mom is never around.
Uh, they don’t pay child support. They were convicted. They went to [00:21:00] jail. There’s all kinds of things that happen, right? And so, you know, people presume that terminations are very easy when a party just steps out of the equation. And I always give the analogy of termination of parental rights are the equivalent of a capital murder case.
In a criminal law setting. And the reason they are is because you are effectively killing that parent. Uh, you’re saying they don’t exist. They have no standing, no rights to do anything, uh, and allowing a third party to assume the mantle there, right? Of all of those roles in an adoption process. So if you just have a tinge of a party that doesn’t want to consent, It can be a very expensive, very drawn out and very, very challenging, uh, case to accomplish the result that you want.
And that’s why I tell people up front, this is not a sales pitch. Terminations are very, very challenging. I do not generally, uh, advocate for them unless it is a very clear cut situation or you have a [00:22:00] situation where a party is willing to voluntarily relinquish and even with a volutary relinquishment of the parental rights before you get to the potential stepparennt.
What you need to remember is, uh, you’ve got a court that has to approve that they sometimes will have amicus or third parties, uh, determine whether it’s in the best interest of a child or children. I have literally seen people get to the termination, prove up. Hearing and they don’t have their ducks in a row, and they haven’t asked the child, do you want this?
And all of a sudden a 14 year old gets up there and says, no, I don’t want this. I don’t think it’s in my best interest. Um, you know, and so you really gotta know what you’re doing in these termination, um, stepparent termination cases. You really gotta be prepared financially and you’ve gotta be prepared for the result may not happen.
And, and I always tell people, you know, it’s, it’s like when you’re trying to. You expect not to be able to adopt. You expect not to be able to terminate, not the other way around. And that’s really hard when you’re paying money to an attorney, tens of thousands of dollars to go through this, not to [00:23:00] be able to expect the result.
Uh, but I can just tell you, you know, it’s very, very challenging. But when you get the termination done, the adoption home study, all those things need to be done in conjunction with that. Okay. And the big thing about the termination is if you don’t get the termination, what happens? And I see a lot of attorneys skip that step.
So for example, if a, if a, a dad’s never coming around or a mom’s never coming around, or they’ve got some serious issues, , you know, you see somebody push the gas pedal in termination and adoption and they forget the fact that, hey, you’ve got a really good case for supervised or limited or no contact. Um, you’ve got a really good case for counselors to, uh, do some co-parenting situations or reunification.
Uh, and, and it’s kind of like the, the, the famous criminal case, uh, where the prosecutor goes for the capital murder, but they could have gotten the personal murder, right? They should have. Had the other charges there, so that way there’s some lesser [00:24:00] included, uh, that, that may be necessary to protect the child.
And, and, um, so I, I think that it’s important for clients to understand, uh, to wrap this up, is that, look, the adoption process. Candidly is pretty easy. Uh, it takes some time. Uh, it takes some resources, uh, because you’ve got home studies and forms that have to go back and forth, but that process is not very challenging.
The termination process is the most challenging thing you can do in family law. Uh, if it’s not, uh, an agreed situation that the court approves, why would somebody do that? I mean, like you said earlier, if the other parent is in jail or the other parent is not there, never around, but I mean, what is the real reason?
For me as a stepparent, for example, why would I want to even try for termination well, and not just be there, be there for the child? Yeah. The simple answer is, you know, obviously you want some finality and some permanency, right? So when you have the really bad actors, Um, you don’t want them being able to inject themselves over and over again to [00:25:00] cause the detriment to the child.
So I see a lot of people with drug addicts, people getting outta jail, uh, all that stuff. They, they want to come back around and be super dad or mom for 12 minutes and then they bounce back out. So it’s very disruptive to the child, um, in that setting. . Um, and then also, uh, you know, you want a, that party, uh, let’s, let’s put the shoe on the other foot.
That party may be the stay-at-home parent, right? That’s actually doing the only parenting of the child that the child knows because the other party’s working. And so having those rights and duties set out, um, you know, is, is a big thing. And, and, and then you consider the best interest of the child, what the child’s wishes are.
I mean, you know, everybody wants to have a dad or a. Um, you know, and, and at the end of the day, if you, if you don’t have one that’s physically present, even though it’s bio, and this is the only person you know is daddy or mommy, if you’re a kid, It’s kind of nice to be able to say, this is my last name. I have the same last name as my mom, and this is my dad.
Um, and you know, it just [00:26:00] creates some normalcy and, and, and, and those are the, those are the touchy points that I try to argue at the tail end of these termination cases is, look, put yourself in this kid’s shoes for a minute, right? Let’s take away the, the legal stuff or why, why this benefits dad or mom, put yourself in this child’s.
His mom has a different last name. She has that because somebody that she married that loves this kid is caring for this kid. Uh, but the other party that doesn’t and is not involved is just putting up a roadblock and making it very confusing at school for this child. They get teased, bullies, all that stuff.
So this child wants this. It’s in this child’s best interest. You’ve done the homework, you’ve got the amicus, you’ve got all these people. It’s. and then, you know, once you get all those together, that’s where I think, you know, it, it really does impact a child in a very positive way. And the courts don’t make it easy for that very reason.
You, you don’t, you don’t get the second bite at this apple. You, you adopt, it’s yours. You don’t get the hey and I, I’ve had people call me and say, [00:27:00] Hey, I adopted this kid, uh, or these kids, and I just really don’t. And I’ve had bio parents say that to me. Can I terminate my own rights? No, . You, you don’t just get to give ’em away like people do dogs.
Which is wrong too. That’s true. Right? Just, just you, you made the decision. Stick with it. It’s life and it ain’t easy. So I, I think that’s a good, good point to wrap up, unless you guys have anything to add on the stepparents topic. Any other thoughts? Be good humans please. Correct, correct and understand.
It’s not easy. I think I said that before many times. Just, it’s not easy. But again, the benefits, like when I look at our house at Thanksgiving or Christmas and there’s eight kids and their grandbaby and our grandbabies and stuff like that, it’s just, it is a beautiful thing that you can be there and and love other kids and bring other kids in their family and give kids.
Another home stability in a home they didn’t have before. It’s a beautiful thing, but again, you just gotta be prepared. It’s not always, [00:28:00] it’s not always easy, but you can make it work. Well, terrific. Well, if um, you have any questions on this topic or other family law topics and you’d like to get in touch with the Sisemore law firm, you can call the firm at (817) 336-4444 or visit lawyerdfw.com.
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