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What are stepparents' custody rights?

Stepparents are in a gray area in the law. They often take care of children as if they are their own. Stepparents do have some legal rights that you should be aware of.

What are the legal rights of stepparents?

Stepparents are not actually related to a child and may not be legally recognized as a parent. They could be recognized as a guardian with the right documentation. Stepparents can adopt their stepchildren, but if both biological parents are in the child's life, then permission needs to be given by both. In the case that one parent has lost legal rights to the child, the stepparent can apply for the adoption without that parent's consent.

Can you seek out visitation as a stepparent going through a divorce?

Not all states allow for stepparents to seek visitation rights after a divorce. Stepparents are explicitly mentioned in New Hampshire's visitation laws and may seek visitation if they divorce the mother or father of a child they have raised. The court will review the case to make sure that continued visitation is in the best interests of the child. If your former spouse, the biological parent of the child, opposes your visitation rights, this can be a major hurdle for you.

Fortunately, the courts will look at the long-term relationship you have with the child to determine if it's in the child's best interests to continue to see you. For example, barring any violence or unusual circumstances, a child raised by a stepparent for years would likely want to and feel comfortable continuing to see that parent.

If this is something you're going through, your attorney can help you make your case for continued visitation.

Source: FindLaw, "The Legal Rights of Stepparents," Ephrat Livni, accessed Feb. 07, 2017

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