Parents always worry about the welfare of their children during a divorce. The fear may even grow when the family includes stepchildren, especially since the legal system does not view the rights of stepparents as equal to those of biological parents.
Many stepparents share full responsibility of raising their stepchildren and often develop a loving relationship with them, and matters may complicate further when a stepparent divorces the children’s natural parent.
Not all hope is lost for stepparents during a divorce. Options exist that allow children to keep in contact with their former stepparent. However, it is necessary for everyone to understand the restrictions they could face as the divorce becomes final.
Limits to Rights
The laws are different for stepparents, but some laws acknowledge their connection to the children they helped raise. Stepparent involvement after a divorce depends on if the relationship met certain conditions. The stepparent and the child must have an emotional tie and the role of parenting must have lasted for a significant amount of time.
The court will also often consider how the removal of the stepparent could cause the child emotional distress. Stepparents that were in the home and contributed financially to the upbringing of the child will have more standing than someone that was only available occasionally.
Shared custody in these types of families is rare, but stepparent visitation laws do exist in many states including Wisconsin. In order to achieve visitation, non-biological parents need to petition the court for visitation rights.
Request for Custody
Stepparents may want primary custody if their ex-spouse is the only surviving biological parent and unfit to care for children. This can happen, but the stepparent must have the proof to back up their accusations of the behavior of the other parent. The court will also want proof of the emotional attachment between the non-biological parent and the child.
Agreements With Parents
The simplest way to have shared custody or visitation is to make an agreement with the other parent before going to court. The negotiation can take place with the help of a mediator or with a binding contract prepared by an attorney.
Couples that have biological children together and a pre-arranged custody agreement can simply include the stepchild in the plan. It is usually easier for the parents and causes less stress for the children when everyone is on the same schedule.
The stepparent can encourage the birth parent to allow continued contact by offering child support. Income levels drop after a divorce and the financial help can show the dedication of the stepparent to the well-being of the child.
If any agreement must include the approval of both birth parents it may become complicated. It is often better to have a judge make the decision to avoid any future legal complications. Even in simple arrangements, the help of an attorney is vital.
Alternatives to Contact
Divorcing partners that no longer communicate effectively may make a continued relationship with stepchildren difficult. Parents that move out of state or remarry may not want to continue contact. In this instance, the stepparent can take steps that prove to the child their concern for them. The effort may encourage the child to seek a reunion once they reach adulthood.
Donate to their future with a 529 college tuition plan or set up a trust for the child. Include them in a will or make them the beneficiary of a life insurance plan. Continue to send letters, Christmas cards, and gifts if allowed by the parent.
At The Law Offices of Thomas Marola, we will work with you to find a solution that takes into account the best interests of everyone involved. Our experience in family law has given us the opportunity to see a variety of successful arrangements. Contact us today to discuss your situation.