Often, the bond between a stepparent and stepchild can be equally strong (or stronger) than the bond shared by blood relatives. Sadly, the law does not always factor this in during divorce proceedings. As a result, when a marriage fails, a stepparent may not have the same visitation and custody rights as a biological parent. This can be the case even if it goes against the wishes of both the stepchild and stepparent.
However, there are legal options open to stepparents that may provide protection for the relationships they cherish. Here are two:
Frequently, the connection between a stepparent and their stepchild is so strong that the stepparent aspires to adopt the child. Once adoptive parental rights have been established, the adopted parent is afforded the same protections as birth parents with regards to custody and visitation.
However, it is important to note that adoption isn’t something that you can do when a divorce is imminent. Rather, it’s something that you should consider while your marriage is healthy to protect your relationship with your stepchild for the future, whatever may come.
De facto custodianship
If a stepparent satisfies the necessary requirements to qualify as a de facto custodian, they may have a route to visitation and custody rights even after they divorce the child’s biological parent.
To be successful, stepparents must prove that they have been the child’s primary caregiver for a significant period of time (six months to a year, depending on the child’s age). In essence, this relies on the idea that the stepparent has psychologically stepped into a parental role that should be preserved because of the benefits it gives the child.
A court may award custody rights to a de facto custodian if it believes that the biological parents are in some way unfit to care for the child. Additionally, they may grant the same rights if the child’s biological parent is absent or incarcerated.
Protecting your relationship with your stepchild is important to you, so find out as much as you can about your legal options. The earlier your act, the better.