As a stepparent, you may have formed a close bond with your spouse’s child. If you’re now going through a separation and divorce, then you may be wondering if you have any legal rights as a stepparent.
In North Carolina, stepparent custody rights are complicated, however, N.C.G.S. §50-13.1(a) states that stepparents do have the right to sue for custody or visitation. Courts in North Carolina have upheld that a parent/child relationship like that of a stepparent and stepchild – regardless of a biological relationship – is sufficient to merit legal standing, especially if the stepparent has assumed a caretaker and co-parent role in the child’s life.
What if the biological parent refuses the request for custody?
The stepparent has the right to sue if the biological parent denies his or her request for custody or visitation. However, it is overwhelmingly likely that a judge will reject the stepparent’s suit unless the biological parent is considered unfit or deemed a danger to the child.
It is more likely that a stepparent could successfully sue to obtain visitation rights if the court deems that it would be in the child’s best interest. The judge’s decision will factor in the stepparent’s participation in the child’s life, the length of time the stepparent was considered the child’s caretaker, and the amount of emotional attachment witnessed between the child and the stepparent. Additionally, the judge will consider the amount of financial assistance the stepparent provided and whether the child would suffer from lack of visitation.
Can I adopt my stepchild?
Adoption gives you the best bet for retaining legal custody of your stepchild should you and the child’s biological parent separate or divorce, or your spouse unexpectedly passes away. To adopt your stepchild, there are requirements you must meet.
First, you must be married to the child’s biological parent. You also must live in North Carolina for no less than six months, and you must live with your spouse and the child. Your spouse, the child’s biological parent, must consent to the adoption and if the child is 12 years old or older, you must have the child’s consent as well. If you have only been with the family for a short period, you must undergo a home study. Finally, the child’s parent who is not your spouse must either consent or have his or her parental rights terminated under the applicable statute.
Your first step should be speaking with our experienced family law attorney. We will be able to advise you on your rights as a stepparent regarding custody, visitation, and adoption.
Because custody cases have complicated elements and are considered by North Carolina judges on a case-by-case basis, there are many variables that can impact your case. Before moving forward with any legal action, contact an attorney you can trust.