The following information is for educational purposes only. For specific legal advice, consult your attorney.
Stepparenting raises many issues, but one that’s not often discussed is what rights stepparents have when it comes to children they have raised as their own. Circle of Moms members who are stepparents know that their rights are legally limited, but have questions about how they can stay involved in the lives of kids they love.
Here some of the most common questions that arise in Circle of Moms' communities for stepmoms, and insights into the ways members are dealing with them.
Question #1: Will I still get to see my family (stepchildren) if my spouse were to die?
Discussion: Step mom Melanie M. sums up this concern perfectly. “I worry that if something were to ever happen to my husband I would not only lose him but my family since I don't believe I have any rights to my step kids,” she frets. It’s a valid concern, too, because in most cases, if the children’s other biological parent retains parental rights, it’s often their decision as to whether or not you see the kids.
Some step parents advise petitioning the court before it becomes an issue, asking for some sort of provision to be put into the custody papers. Stepmother Holly mentions that in California, she has been able to file an order called a “Petition for a Joinder” which added her as an “interested party” to the custody file.
Question #2: What happens to my kids’ relationship with their step/half-siblings if I get divorced?
Discussion: It’s hard enough to get divorced, but when you’re splitting up a blended family, it can be incredibly complicated. One thing that can make it easier is to work hard to keep a cordial relationship with your spouse’s ex when you’re married.
It’s hard, especially if they’re bitter or your spouse is, but you are doing it for the kids. It’s a little easier if you keep in mind that whatever happened between the two exes probably had nothing to do with you. As Julie D. points out “first and foremost, it's about the kids and making sure they're happy and healthy.”
Mom and ex-stepmom Tjuana C. has a son who is a half-sibling to her ex-husband’s children. She says it’s a good thing she worked at getting along with her stepchildren’s biological mother, because their good relationship is what makes it possible for her son to have his brothers and sisters in his life.
Question #3: My spouse is being deployed. What happens to visitation while he or she is gone?
Discussion: Annette S. says she loves her stepson very much and helps him with his homework every Wednesday night when he visits. However, since her husband has been deployed, her stepson hasn’t been visiting. Annette says, “There is nothing I can do because legally she (her son’s bio mother) does not have to let me see him.’’
Circle of Moms members agree that, legally, Annette’s hands are tied, but suggest talking to the biological mom about the unusual situation. It may help and it may not.
After all, even Dawn, a member who has both step-kids and kids of her own, and who'd like to be able to visit with her stepkids if her husband were deployed, says that as a biological parent, she doesn’t think she’d “be comfortable sending my children to their stepmom.”
Question #4: Can I adopt my step children if their biological parent is still in the picture?
Discussion: Stepmother Laura L. has the same worries as Melanie about what happens to her relationship with her step kids if her husband dies. In her case,”It's not that the bio mom would be ambitious enough on her own to take the kids, but her parents would push her to do so and pay whatever cost it took.“ Knowing that, she wonders if it’s possible to adopt her stepchildren.
The answer is that it's not likely unless she and her husband can prove the children’s biological mother is unfit and move to have her parental rights revoked. Member Michelle B. is sympathetic but points out “it is really hard to get a mother's rights taken away.”
The Bottom Line
For now, it seems as though stepparents will have to keep on doing what they are doing: trying to build and maintain relationships. The good news is that as the structure of families continue to evolve, so do the laws regarding familial rights.
In fact, Michelle also relayed some news that signals a change in attitude about stepparents' rights. “The other day [I met] a stepmom [who] actually won custody of her stepkids over both biological parents. So it can happen, it is just a fight.”
For more information on laws and policies related to stepparent rights, visit the National Step Family Resource Center. For specific legal advice, consult your attorney.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.