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 info@argentinolaw.com and set up a time to talk with us about your case.