The relationship between you and your stepchildren is special. Although you may not be their biological parent, you care for them just the same. Unfortunately, the courts do not always afford you the same rights as a biological parent during a divorce proceeding. While you may not be able to claim all of the same rights to your stepchildren as your former spouse, you do have the ability to claim visitation and other arrangements.
The Best Interest of the Child
When you are filing for divorce from your spouse and you want to gain some sort of custody or visitation rights to your stepchild, the court will consider the best interest of the child. This standard means that the court will examine the role of each parent, including stepparent, in enriching the child’s life and welfare.
They will consider how each parent is involved in the child’s life and whether or not the child would suffer if he or she spends less time with either of them. If you have a particularly close relationship with your stepchild, this standard could work in your favor.
Custody Rights for Stepparents
Under many divorce court systems, stepparents do not always receive the same custody rights as biological parents do. Above all other individuals, the biological parent has a greater right to custody to his or her children. This parent is responsible for taking care of the child, making all important decisions for the child, and providing a home for the child.
If you are a stepparent and want to receive custody rights to your stepchildren, you will have to establish your relationship with the child. You will likely not be the primary custodial parent, but if you can prove that you are very involved in the child’s life, you may receive some custody rights. You may even be able to receive joint custody rights if you can establish a particularly close and loving relationship with the child.
You may receive custody rights if you legally adopted your stepchild prior to the divorce. Adoption agreements give you the same legal rights over the child as the biological parent, and the court will likely treat you in the same way. You may receive custody, visitation, and have to pay child support – just like a biological parent.
Can You Get Visitation as a Stepparent?
Visitation rights are a more common agreement between stepparents and biological parents. When biological parents divorce, usually one parent has primary physical custody rights and the other parent has rights to visit the child. A parent may not receive visitation rights if there is a history of abuse or the parent is otherwise unfit or dangerous.
Because visitation rights are more flexible than custody agreements, it is more common for stepparents to receive visitation in a divorce. If you were an important part of the child’s life while you and his or her biological parent were married, ending that relationship suddenly could be traumatic. As a result, the court may award you visitation days to promote your relationship with your stepchild.
Do You Have to Pay Child Support as a Stepparent?
Unless you adopted the child prior to divorce, it is unlikely that you will have to pay child support for your stepchild. Some states do require that stepparents pay child support, but Indiana is not one of them. However, you may have to pay child support if you agree to act In Loco Parentis to the child.
In Loco Parentis comes into play with your former spouse, the biological parent is unable to financially support the child after the divorce. In these situations, you may have to step up and help provide the child with the care he or she needs to survive.
Being a stepparent does not mean that you lose the rights to see the children close to you after you divorce their biological parent. However, it may be more difficult to secure visitation rights in a courtroom. To strengthen your chances of obtaining a favorable arrangement, contact an Indianapolis stepparent adoption attorney to assist you with your case. Your attorney can assist with the negotiation and help build a compelling case in your favor.