Custody decisions are always based on the children’s best interests, including maintaining a relationship with both biological parents. But if the divorcing couple includes a step-parent, what about maintaining that relationship?
Without the formal adoption of stepchildren, stepparents are not automatically given any parental rights if their marriage ends. However, they do have the right to sue the biological parent for visitation or partial custody.
If a stepparent is the only mother or father a child has ever known, the court will usually consider their request for visitation or custody in the case of divorce. The longer the stepparent has been in a parental role in raising the child, the better their chances of winning.
While the court may consider a stepparent’s request for visitation or custody, the stepparent will not be responsible for child support in most cases. If a stepparent has made a significant financial contribution to a child’s financial support during the course of the marriage, the court might require them to continue providing some support.
Many step-parents seek to adopt their stepchildren when the other biological parent is no longer living or is willing to relinquish their parental rights. Involuntary termination of parental rights is also a possibility in certain circumstances. If the adoption takes place, the step-parent gains all the rights and responsibilities of a biological parent in the case of divorce or the biological parent’s death.
Pennsylvania law considers stepparents to be individuals who may have standing in a custody case. However, many factors could impact the outcome, including the length of the stepparent relationship and the biological parents’ wishes.