In the United States, roughly 50 percent of all first marriages end in divorce, and those numbers increase with each subsequent marriage. Perhaps one of the reasons why second marriages don’t fare as well as first marriages are the stress of blended families. Often, second marriages are dealing with exes that are in the picture, children from previous marriages, child support, spousal support, or all the above.
If you’re a stepparent and you’re getting a divorce, you may be wondering if you have any rights to your stepchild. After all, the bonds between parents and children can be extremely strong, biological, or not. For example, you may have been there for your stepchild since they were an infant. You may have been their primary caregiver, bathed them, fed them, took them to doctor’s appointments, and drove them to and from school. Now that you’re getting a divorce, do you have any rights to custody or parenting time?
Did You Adopt Your Stepchild?
One of our first questions is, “Did you adopt your stepchild?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then you have all the same legal rights as a biological mother or father. This means that if you get a divorce, you have the same rights and responsibilities in regard to child custody and child support. In Colorado, for a stepparent to adopt a stepchild, the following must occur:
- The stepparent must be married to the child’s parent;
- The stepparent must be at least 10 years older than the stepchild;
- The stepchild must have lived with the custodial parent and the stepmother or father for one year (a judge can waive this);
- The stepparent can’t have a disqualifying felony on their record, such as a felony for child abuse; and
- The child’s noncustodial parent must consent to the adoption, unless he or she has abandoned their child, neglected or abused the child, been deemed unfit, or made only token efforts to support or communicate with their child.
If you did NOT adopt your stepchild, you can ask the court for visitation rights, though these are not automatic. Essentially, the court is interested in the child’s best interests. If you have developed a close bond with the child over the years and it would be in your stepchild’s best interests to visit with you, it is possible that a judge would issue an order allowing you visitation.
To explore your legal options as a divorcing stepparent, reach out to Kaplan Law L.L.C.