By Margie Connolly, Family Law attorney in Sugar Land.
This is an interesting question. The answer might surprise some.
Going through a divorce can be a devastating experience for many people. The experience can be even more traumatic when there are children involved, and in cases where one spouse is the stepparent of the children, the possibility of also losing the children must cause great concern. In many Texas cases, the stepparent has been part of the children’s lives for many years, but when the couple divorces, the stepparent has no legal rights related to child custody.
To gain legal child custody rights, a stepparent must adopt the children prior to the divorce. In order to do this, the ex-spouse — who is the children’s other biological parent — will have to relinquish all legal rights to the children. In cases where that parent refuses the request, the court may consider evidence that the absent parent is no longer part of the children’s lives or of harmful influence, and it may order termination of legal rights. If the stepparent can prove that there is a strong bond between him or her and the children and the ability to provide proper child care, the court may award primary child custody to the stepparent.
If a child custody application is not successful, the stepparent may seek visitation rights in order to continue an existing relationship with the children. Any legal rights obtained by the stepparent will include responsibilities such as support and assistance to the primary caregiver. When children are older, the court may consider their feelings, and a close relationship with the stepparent may improve the chances — even if it is only visitation rights.
The child custody laws in every state are different, and stepparents may benefit from a consultation with an experienced family law attorney. After evaluating and assessing the circumstances, proper guidance will be provided as to the best way forward. Effective presentation of your case in a Texas family court may result in a continued relationship between stepparent and stepchildren.