When fighting for custody of a child, the process can be confusing and emotionally draining. As a stepparent, understanding what rights you may have to your stepchildren can be extremely complex, leading to a lengthy litigation process and frustration on both sides. Here, the divorce and child custody attorneys at Rodier Family Law discuss the rights of a stepparent to their stepchildren after divorce, as well as the process of filing for the adoption of a child after a divorce occurs.
If You Have Not Legally Adopted Your Stepchildren
When considering the adoption of a stepchild, it is important to think about your rights as a parent if you and your spouse were to divorce. If you have not legally adopted your stepchild, you may face trouble when fighting for custody of these children down the road. As a stepparent, you have an emotional bond with these children, but ultimately, you are not their biological parent. Legally, stepparents do not not automatically have rights to their stepchildren if they have not adopted these children. For example, if you were to sign forms or other important documents on the child’s behalf, you must have written permission from their biological parent. Additionally, custody cases after a divorce can become complex and often unfortunate for stepparents, as they technically have no legal ties to the child, regardless of their emotional bond.
When You Have Previously Adopted Your Stepchildren
However, if you have previously adopted your stepchildren, then you are also their legal parent and have the same rights regarding custody as the biological parent who retained their custody of the children. If you and your ex-spouse divorce, then the discussion of child custody is essentially the same as that of two biological parents. However, it is important to note that when adopting stepchildren, there is an extensive process which involves litigation and can become contested if both biological parents do not consent. Additionally, the adoption of a stepchild removes the responsibilities of a non-custodial parent, including their responsibility to pay child support. Once you have adopted your spouse’s children, you are then legally responsible and entitled to the same rights as a biological parent. Therefore, in the event of a divorce an adoptive parent could potentially pay child support for their adopted children to the biological parent.
When You Want to File for Adoption Without Parental Consent
While rare, stepparents are able to file a petition for adoption without the consent of both biological parents. General considerations when discussing stepparent adoption of children include if the biological parent is unfit, such as being abusive, neglectful or incarcerated. Additionally, if the biological parent has abandoned the children before or after the divorce, stepparents may have a stronger chance at adoption and custody of the children. Finally, stepparents are able to request proof of paternity for their stepchildren during an adoption case in certain circumstances. If the presumed father is not actually the children’s biological father, then their rights may be altered, giving the stepparent a chance to prove their case in the adoption of their stepchildren. While this process is generally time-consuming and complex, it is important to do research and seek legal counsel as needed when filing for the adoption of stepchildren, especially when the biological parents do not both consent.
Learn More With Child Custody and Divorce Attorneys at Rodier Family Law
While stepparents are not considered to have the same legal rights as a child’s biological parent, the emotional connection they have with these children is extremely meaningful. If you are going, or have previously gone through a divorce and want to know your rights in adoption or custody of your stepchildren, contact the qualified attorneys at Rodier Family Law today.