Law Office of Ellen Dixius

Your rights as a step parent after divorce

You may have many options for maintaining close and healthy relationships with your step children after divorce. It might even be possible in Texas to have legal rights and responsibilities toward them. But generally, a step parent’s legal parental rights end along with their marriage to the biological parent. With tough legal hurdles and high emotional stakes, consulting an experienced attorney is often a good place to start.

Challenges in sharing or gaining custody of step children

In most cases, divorcing the biological parent of your step children means losing legal custody, visitation and other parental rights. There are exceptions.

During their marriage to the biological parent, many step parents legally adopt their step children. Among other potential advantages, this may be crucial if the biological parent passes away. Before this can happen in Texas, the children’s other biological parent (usually, “the ex”) must voluntarily give up their rights if they haven’t lost them involuntarily (through court order or posthumously, for example).

A court can also consider granting custody to a stepparent (or anyone else) if they’ve had actual care, control, and possession of the children, long-term, before filing for custody. This qualification only gets you a hearing to if your custody is in the child’s best interest and the biological parents are unfit, deserters, deceased or otherwise unavailable. These are high hurdles and few step parents can clear them.

Another side of the coin

If your case is more typical, you can’t secure legal parental rights. But there are at least three other factors to consider. They may not be much consolation, but you should know them.

Divorce settlements are the result of legal negotiations and proceedings. As part of a settlement, perhaps in exchange for agreeing to child support, you might be able to negotiate some degree of continuing legal access to the children.

Although it’s more common when there is some kind of legal or genetic tie between them, it’s not unusual for step parents and step children to maintain contact and close relationships. Besides, there will be a day when the children are adults and can choose their own friends and family. You may wish to stay fair and stay in touch.

For the most part, your financial burdens and responsibilities toward the step children also usually end with your parental rights. Exceptions are many, but the most notable exception could be in your prenuptial agreement. Read it if you haven’t seen it in a while.

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