Stepparents in general have an undeservedly bad reputation, despite the fact that many of them form strong emotional bonds with their stepchildren, and invest considerable time and effort taking care of them. When a stepparent and biological parent divorce, it’s usually thought that the stepparent has no parental rights. However, divorce law in Owings Mills has been slowly catching up to the modern reality of blended families. Since child custody laws are subject to change, stepparents are encouraged to visit an attorney for the latest information about their legal rights.
Determination of Standing
A divorce attorney will first determine whether the stepparent has the right to have an issue heard by the court. This is known as standing. A court may decide to hear a stepparent’s case if visitation could be in the child’s best interests. The following factors may apply to the determination of standing:
- Whether the child will suffer harm without visitation with the stepparent
- The extent of assistance and financial aid provided by the stepparent for the child’s rearing
- The duration of the stepparent’s parental role with the child
- The degree to which the stepparent has held an active, significant role in the child’s daily life
- The strength of the relationship between the child and the stepparent
Award of Custody
Divorce law presumes that it’s in the child’s best interests for the biological parent to retain custody, rather than the stepparent. However, there are some occasional exceptions. If both of the biological parents are found unfit to raise the child, the stepparent may be awarded custody. Parental fitness is determined on a case-by-case basis, but may be considered when any of the following factors apply:
- Child abuse or neglect
- Other form of domestic violence
- Substance abuse
- Severe psychiatric illness
Of course, if both of the biological parents have died around the time of the divorce, then the stepparent will also be more likely to secure custody.
Establishment of Visitation
Although it’s challenging for a stepparent to get custody, he or she may be more likely to receive visitation. Visitation may be awarded if it’s determined to be in the child’s best interests. The court will consider whether an ongoing relationship with the stepparent will enhance the child’s quality of life.