By Chris Kramer
In most states, stepparents do not have custody rights unless a biological parent is considered unfit or voluntarily relinquishes his or her parental rights so the stepparent can adopt the child after divorce.
Biological parents with sole or joint legal child custody of a child have the responsibility and authority to make decisions for the child about education, religion and health care. Legal custody rights and responsibilities don't generally extend to a stepparent. If a stepparent is a custodian of the child, he or she may make appropriate decisions in the absence of the biological parent, much like a babysitter.
Some states allow a biological parent to delegate parental responsibility to a stepparent in writing for a limited period of time. Delegation of authority doesn't limit or reduce the authority of either biological parent, but it may allow a stepparent to sign legal forms or make decisions regarding the child as if the stepparent had joint legal custody.
A stepparent who has acted as the parent of a child for a long period and divorces the biological parent, may be awarded child visitation rights if the divorce court finds that it's in the best interest of the child to continue a relationship with the stepparent.
If the child is living with a biological parent who dies and the child is left with a surviving stepparent, some states allow the stepparent to seek child custody, even if the other biological parent is alive.
Stepparents' custody rights in states vary greatly on the divorce laws and circumstances of the case. Learn how your state interprets stepparents' rights in child custody cases by speaking to a local divorce lawyer. Call 877-349-1310 or fill out a divorce case review form to connect with a divorce attorney and set up a preliminary consultation. Although you are not a child's biological parent you have a relationship with a stepchild that you can fight to protect.
The above synopsis of stepparents' child custody rights is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended to provide legal advice. These laws may have changed since our last update and there may be additional laws that apply in your situation. For the latest information on these divorce laws, please contact a local divorce lawyer in your area.