Yes and no. Legally speaking, you do not have parental rights or responsibilities toward your stepchild unless you adopt them. Nevertheless, your stepchild may still be your stepchild for tax purposes after a divorce, and as many stepparents know, nothing can take away the special bond you form with your stepchild.
Blended families can be complex, and they only get more complicated in divorce cases. Unfortunately, if your ex-spouse does not want you to be a part of their child’s life, there is little you can do to secure custody and visitation. Courts will occasionally hear stepparent custody cases but only in certain situations, including death, disability, and concerns for child welfare.
Older stepchildren can also choose to maintain a relationship with you on their own terms.
What If I Raised My Stepchild from a Young Age?
If you raised your stepchild from a young age, you may be able to establish parentage with the court, especially if the child’s other biological parent is absent and you supported them financially for many years. Similarly, you may be able to prove that maintaining your relationship with your stepchild is important for the child’s wellbeing. Essentially, if you can show the court that severing your relationship with your stepchild would harm the child, the court may grant third-party custody and visitation.
This is known as a psychological parenting case.
Please note that these kinds of cases are rare, and stepparent rights are uncommon in divorce cases.
What If I Am Concerned About My Stepchild’s Safety?
Domestic violence often leads to divorce, and if this was the case in your marriage, you may be rightfully concerned about your stepchild. As a stepparent, however, you do not have the right to remove the children from your spouse’s care or custody without express permission from the court.
Instead, you will need to report your concerns to the proper authorities. In New Jersey, you should call 911 if your stepchild is in danger or report suspected child abuse and neglect to the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877-652-2873.
Of course, you should also speak to your divorce attorney about your concerns and express them in court when appropriate. The courts may choose to give you temporary custody of your stepchild, but you will seldom be first in line, especially if the child’s biological parent or other family members are available.
Navigate Complex Divorces with Lane & Lane, LLC
Children are always an important consideration in divorce, and if you have stepchildren, you should talk to a lawyer before starting the divorce process. In some cases, mediation may help you preserve your relationship with your spouse and stepchildren, even as you dissolve the marriage.
Remember, you’re divorcing your spouse, not your stepchildren. If you handle your divorce correctly, you should be able to meet your goal of maintaining your relationship with your stepchildren.
Lane & Lane, LLC can help. As a family firm, we understand the importance of all kinds of family relationships, and we go above and beyond to help you achieve lasting solutions. We are experienced, pragmatic, and down-to-earth, and we are ready to discuss your case during a free consultation.
Call us at (908) 259-6673 or contact us online to schedule yours today.