Stepparent Rights in Custody Cases

What Rights Do Stepparents have in Custody Proceedings?

Even though the most common custody disputes involve two divorcing parents, there are other possibilities. Custody disputes can also involve grandparents and in some cases, stepparents. In fact, with blended families becoming more and more common, understanding the rights a stepparent may have can be important.

Are the parties parents or non-parents?

Basically, custody disputes involve either parents or third parties, which are non-parents. The reality is, despite how close a stepparent may become to a child, from a legal standpoint, a stepparent is always classified as a non-parental third party. That means their legal rights are automatically less than those of either parent. But, do stepparents have any rights?

Stepparents may have standing to sue for custody

Third parties, such as grandparents, stepparents and other relatives, even friends of the family, have a right to sue a custodial parent for partial custody or visitation. Typically, this occurs when a stepparent has lived with the child for a significant period of time and developed a very close relationship with the child – often taking on the role of co-parent. So, when a biological parent refuses to allow the stepparent to have any form of custody, the stepparent can sue for partial custody.

Is a stepparent more likely to receive custody or visitation?

Although the law allows stepparents to sue for custody of a minor child, judges typically reject these claims unless the biological parents are deemed unfit and would pose a danger to the child. More often, stepparents are granted visitation with the child. When a court determines that it is in the best interests of the minor child for the stepparent to remain in the child’s life, visitation will be awarded. Judges often weigh the degree of participation in the child’s life, including the length of time the stepparent cared for the child, the depth of emotional attachment that has been established, the degree of financial assistance provided by the stepparent and the harm that the child would suffer if visitation was denied.

If you have questions regarding child custody or any other family law matter, contact us online or by calling Brad J. Latta at (205) 823-1223 for a consultation.

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