Blended families, or stepfamilies, are more common today than they have ever been in modern U.S. history. While blended families come in all shapes and sizes, the legal definition of a stepparent and his or her role is quite specific.
A parent is only considered a stepparent once they marry someone with children of their own. Stepparents are basically legal strangers to the child, in that they are only connected by marriage to the parent. If that relationship is dissolved, the stepparent has no rights regarding the children.
The legal role of the stepparent
The law heavily favors birth parents with regards to custody, and a stepparent requesting custody of any sort against the will of the child and/or legal parent is nearly impossible, as the Constitution itself protects and imbues birthparents with rights and responsibilities to care for and control their children. As a result, in many states it is nearly impossible for a stepparent to obtain custody, unless they can make a strong case that the child’s current living situation is detrimental, or the birthparent is clearly unfit to care for their child.
While each state has their own laws dictating the rights of stepparents, there are similarities. In the event a parent should pass away, most states give custody to the other biological parent, even if the deceased birthparent named stepparent in their will as the new guardian. Some states, such as Colorado, are changing the status quo and giving more rights to stepparents who are able to provide a more stable and “continuous” environment for the child, but such instances are rare. The stepparent can petition for custody in certain circumstances, but the court has discretion to determine which parent is better suited for the child. If granting custody to the natural parent would mean uprooting the child in order to live with a guardian the child has had minimal contact with, the stepparent could find him/herself successful in his/her bid for custody.
Considerations for Stepparent Child Custody in California
In order for a stepparent to be awarded custody of a child, they must do one or both of the following: 1) Enter into a legal marriage with one of the biological parents of the child, and/or 2) Apply for a formal adoption of the child. In order to accomplish the latter, usually one of the biological parents must give up their legal rights to the child. In most states, the court will determine who will have custody of the child based on what living situation would be best. In many cases, a judge will want to see that the stepparent and child actually want to be with each other as well as a history of the stepparent providing a significant amount of financial support for the stepchild.
It is important that all parties know what they are in for before taking steps to enter a custody case. A ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, A.S. v. I.S., granted the stepfather shared custody of his former stepchildren but ruled that he must pay child support. This was an unorthodox ruling to say the least, as the stepfather was ultimately granted rights to his stepchildren equivalent to those of the natural born mother. Previously — and for the most part still — stepparents have been granted no parental rights once the marriage breaks apart, but as well as no responsibilities. Since he successfully litigated for custody and, therefore, severely impaired the mother’s ability to make decisions about her and her children’s lives, the court saw it fit that he pay child support.
As you can see, lobbying for custody in these cases is an uphill battle, so it is crucial to seek out an attorney that specializes in family law and has experience with these cases. If you are hoping to be in your stepchild’s life, even if you and your spouse divorce, it is imperative that you meet with an attorney to determine how your rights can safeguarded.
Swati Desai is a specialist child custody attorney and is a brilliant family law attorney. Her offices are based in the cities of Long Beach and Orange County. She recently relocated to Anaheim. Swati Desai has great compassion for divorce couples and isn’t afraid to deliver both the good and bad prognosis on a given case. Her passion is to obtain the best possible outcome in front of a judge for the benefit of your child. If you feel you are in a position to mediate with your ex husband or wife, Ms. Desai also offers the possibility for mediation. If you know you will be unable to reach an amicable resolution, then Ms. Desai is prepared to litigate on your behalf. For more information contact Ms. Desai and her team at 562-999-3774.