Many children are living in homes with blended families. This means that a stepmother or stepfather may be filling a vital role in a child's life. This often leads to the formation of an emotional bond between stepparent and child that can rival the bond between a child and a biological parent.
In the event that the stepparent and the child's biological parent decide to end the marriage, issues of child custody can become a concern. You need to understand your rights as a stepparent so that you will be prepared to navigate the murky waters of a child custody case in the future.
The first hurdle to overcome in a child custody case involving a stepchild is to establish standing. Standing essentially means that the court recognizes you have a right to be heard in matters pertaining to child custody.
Some key factors that can help you establish standing are the length of time you participated as a parent figure in the child's life, the degree to which you were involved in parenting the child, and the amount of financial support you provided for the child during his or her lifetime.
Once standing is established, you can present your case to a judge for evaluation.
Visitation vs. Custody
It is extremely difficult for a stepparent to fight for custody of a stepchild, unless a legal adoption has taken place. If no legal adoption was completed, you will most likely be fighting for visitation rights.
Many states have recognized the need to protect the visitation rights of individuals in a child's extended support system. These individuals can include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and stepparents.
You can petition the court for a visitation schedule that you feel reflects your desire to remain involved in a stepchild's life after a divorce is complete.
Best Interest of the Child
Most family courts use the interests of the child as a standard when making decisions in custody cases. The court will evaluate your fitness as a parent, your ability to contribute to the welfare and well-being of your stepchild, and your stepchild's desire to continue contact with you when determining if you will be granted visitation.
A judge that deems your continued presence in a child's life to be in his or her best interest will grant legal visitation rights that the child's biological parent (and your former spouse) cannot go against.
To learn more, contact a child custody lawyer in your area like those at Cragun Law Firm.