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Raising a child when you are not their legal parent

Many stepparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even non-relatives across the nation have had to step up in recent years and raise children who were not born to them. This situation might occur if a legal parent is incarcerated, or unable to care for a child due to his or her drug addiction. Whatever the case may be, it is sometimes the best option for a child to be raised by a person other than a legal parent. The role that these people take on with respect to the children varies from one case to the next, as there are different options when you have care and custody of child of whom you are not a legal parent. One common option for a person who is providing long-term care for a child is kinship legal guardianship. N.J.S.A. 3B:12A-1.

In the state of New Jersey, any individual who meets certain conditions can apply for kinship legal guardianship, which gives him or her certain legal rights with respect to a child. You may qualify to apply for kinship legal guardianship if you meet the following conditions:

  • The child has been in your care for at least 12 months.
  • The biological parents of the child cannot care for him or her.
  • You have a legal, biological or emotional relationship with the child.
  • You are financially able to care for the child.
  • It is in the child’s best interests for him or her to remain in your care.

Kinship legal guardianship is an option when an individual needs to care for a child of whom they are not a legal parent on a long-term basis, and is more stable than foster care, which is meant to be temporary and involves a great deal of oversight by the state. Unlike adoption, kinship legal guardianship does not terminate the biological/legal parents’ rights. Kinship legal guardianship also automatically terminates when the child either graduates from high school or turns 18 years of age.

When you are raising a child of whom you are not a legal parent, your rights to that child may vary widely from one situation to the next. We know how difficult, complicated, and emotionally draining all types of family law cases can be. Contact Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, today and we will show you how we can help with your New Jersey divorce case. Our attorneys focus their practice primarily on family law and issues related to children, so we are sure to have the skills that you need for proper representation in your family law case. We are here to answer your questions, settle your concerns, and assist you through the often difficult process of contested divorce and family law cases.

Do Stepparents Have Any Rights to Stepchildren?

Stepparents have no legal rights to a stepchild, both in terms of physical custody and the right to make important decisions about the child’s health and schooling. Likewise, a stepparent normally cannot seek custody of a stepchild over the child’s legal parent in a divorce proceeding, except in rare cases, such as those cases involving child abuse by the legal parent. While the court’s preference is for a child to be in the custody of a legal parent or relative, the court can consider the stepparent as a custodian for the child if neither legal parent is available or able to care for the child, and the stepparent has established a close parental relationship with the child.

New Jersey law does permit third parties, such as grandparents, to receive visitation with or even custody of a child. The same logic also applies to stepparents. K.A.F. v. D.L.M., 437 N.J. Super. 123 (App. Div. 2014). Keep in mind, however, that the legal standard necessary for awarding custody to a stepparent or any third party is higher than the “best interest of the child” standard that the court must use in child custody cases. In order to gain custodial rights, a stepparent must prove that terminating his or her relationship with the child is akin to that of a parent and the absence of same would cause harm to the child. V.C. v. M.J.B., 748 A.2d 539, 163 N.J. 200 (2000).

A stepparent has no specific obligation to financially provide for a stepchild. Child support calculations for the child do not take the stepparent’s income or financial situation into account. The only exception to this situation would be if the stepparent adopts the stepchild. In the event of an adoption, the stepparent would become a legal parent of the child, with all of the same rights and responsibilities as a natural parent, meaning that the stepparent either could have custody of the child or be ordered to pay child support for the child.

The bottom line is that unless a stepparent is able to get a court order awarding him or her custody of a child or adopt the child, the stepparent’s rights to the child are extremely limited. No matter what kind of family-related issues may be involved in your legal matter, however, our New Jersey family law attorneys can guide you through every step of the proceedings necessary to resolving your case. We are here to answer all of your questions about your case and present your potential options. At Argentino Family Law & Advocacy, LLC, we have represented the interests of countless families and children throughout many different types of legal proceeding. Contact our office today at (973) 868-0958 or by e-mail at and set up a time to talk with us about your case.

Grandparent Visitation

Grandparents or siblings of a child residing in New Jersey have a statutory right to file an application with the Court seeking visitation under N.J.S.A. 9:2-7.1.  The statute has been in effect since 1971, with amendments made in 1987 and 1993.  The statute states, in part, that the applicant has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that granting the requested visitation is in the best interests of the child.  The statute enumerates eight (8) factors for the court to consider in deciding a grandparent’s or sibling’s visitation application.  Additionally, the statute indicates that an applicant’s history as a full-time caretaker for the child will serve as prime facie evidence that visitation is in the child’s best interest.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Troxel v. Granville, and invalidated a grandparent visitation statute in the State of Washington on the grounds that it infringed on fit parents’ constitutional right to rear their children.  530 U.S. 57 (2000).  In 2003, the New Jersey Supreme Court analyzed New Jersey’s grandparent visitation statute in the case of Moriarty v. Bradt, in light of the Troxel decision.  177 N.J. 84 (2003).  In Moriarty, the court opined that “interference with parental autonomy will be tolerated only to avoid harm to the health or welfare of the child.” Moriarty at 115.  The court found that the preponderance of evidence burden in the statute, coupled with the avoidance of harm standard, fully protected parents’ fundamental right to raise their child as they see fit.  As such, the court decided that the State’s grandparent visitation statute did not violate a parent’s constitutional rights to family privacy and autonomy.  The 1993 statute remains in effect to this day.

At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we know how important your family is to you, and we want to do everything we can to help you through the legal situation that you are currently facing. We are here to listen to your concerns, explain the law and the legal process to you, and present all of your options. Together, we can work toward the goals and make the decisions that are right for you and your family. Contact our office today by phone at (973) 868-0958 or via email at