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Step-Parent Custody: Do You Have To Stop Loving Your Step-Children If You Get Divorced?


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Available 24/7 for Divorce, Child Custody, Support, Protection From Abuse, and Adoption Assistance.
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By Jan Grossman, Esq.

One of the unfortunate by-products of divorce is a step-parent losing contact with the step-children they helped raise. This step-parent bond is often as close as the bond between natural parent and child. Often the step-child even refers to the step-parent as “Mom” or “Dad.” Also in divorce, step-siblings suddenly become separated through no fault of their own, just because the adults in the marriage no longer get along.

What custody rights does a former step-parent have to visitation with their step-children? The law is very clear on this issue. If a former step-parent resided in the same home with a step-child for over a year, provided for them, supervised them, cared for them, and made parental decisions on their behalf, a step-parent has the legal right to file for custody or visitation in court. If the court finds that it is in the child’s best interest, a former step-parent will have custody rights to their step-child preserved by court-order. This is called “third party custody,” as anyone who is not a parent is considered a “third party.”

When a court considers whether or not to grant custody rights to a former step-parent, the court examines the original bond that existed between the step-parent and step-child, the length and quality of that relationship, the potential harm to the child if that bond is broken, and (depending upon the age and maturity of the child) the child’s desire to maintain regular contact with the step-parent.

Then the court examines whether continued contact between former step-parent and step-child will interfere with the natural parent(s)’ right to raise that child without outside interference from the step-parent. Every natural parent has a constitutional right of privacy that gives them the right to raise their children without outside interference or disruption. If the court finds that the former step-parent cannot visit with their step-child peacefully and without creating conflict, then visitation may not be granted even if there is an established bond.

When a client schedules a no-cost custody appointment with us at WE CARE LEGAL SERVICES BUCKS COUNTY, 1-855 LAW FAMILY, we will review the entire history of the custody situation and give that client our best opinion about how to proceed. Our goal is always the betterment of the situation and the best interest of the child. We will never recommend litigation, if we do not believe a client’s goals can be accomplished. We do not raise false hopes. We review the pluses and minuses of each situation and assist the client in making an informed decision. WE really do CARE.


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