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Stepparent Rights Before and After a Divorce

Posted on in Children

DuPage County stepparent adoption attorneyBecoming a step-parent can be an overwhelming life change, whether you have biological children of your own or not. Approximately 40 percent of American families are blended families, making stepparenting a common occurrence. It can be a challenge to balance the desire to befriend your spouse’s child and earn their affection with the need to parent them when the time comes. Many stepparents form strong bonds with their stepchildren, and they should be sure to understand their rights and legal obligations both during their marriage and if divorce ever enters the picture. 

Throughout the Marriage

  • Discipline: Many stepparents leave discipline to their spouse, especially when they first join the family, but as time goes on, more and more responsibility can get placed in their hands. It is important to have a conversation with your spouse about parenting expectations. Though it may not feel like it, you must remember that discipline is intended to benefit the child, and as a parent, the child’s safety should be your first priority.
  • Education: Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), stepparents are allowed to receive and review their stepchildren’s school records. FERPA defines a parent as "an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian,” thus giving stepparents educational rights in regards to their stepchild.
  • Traveling: There is no law stating that stepchildren and stepparents cannot travel alone together; however, it is important to have both biological parents’ permission, unless the stepparent has adopted the stepchild and become their legal parent. There are also consent forms that can be signed to ensure no legal action is taken against the stepparent.

After Divorce

  • Custody/Visitation: Stepparents and stepchildren often share relationships similar to biological parents and their children, especially when this relationship existed for most of the child’s life. If the biological parent decides that the stepparent cannot have visitation rights after divorce, there is often not much that a court can do, unless the stepparent has formally adopted the stepchild. Once the divorce is finalized, a stepparent will lack the biological and legal ties to the child that guarantee parental rights. A stepparent does typically have the right to request visitation, but the court may not grant visitation rights.
  • Solidifying Legal Rights: The only way to ensure legal rights of the child is through adoption. Many stepparents decide to adopt their stepchild, especially if the child’s other biological parent is no longer in the picture. It is easier to adopt the child before divorce, because the biological parents’ permission is required for an adoption.

Contact a Lombard Adoption and Divorce Attorney

Blending families and learning to be a good stepparent can be challenging tasks. Stepchildren often feel like one’s own children, and the possibility of losing the connection with them after divorce can be unthinkable. Our DuPage County family law attorneys can help you address your legal concerns regarding adoption, divorce, or other issues regarding your stepchildren. Contact us at 630-426-0196.

Sources: 

https://family.lovetoknow.com/about-family-values/overview-step-parents-rights

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