Experts estimate that less than half of children under the age of eighteen live in a traditional two-parent household. In fact, blended families are becoming more prevalent. Up to 15 percent of minor children live in a household comprised of one biological parent and a stepparent. But what happens in the event of a separation or divorce with a blended family? Child custody issues from a traditional family can be complex on their own. Add other interested parties into the mix, and they become even more so. This article will explore whether stepparents have child custody rights in Texas.
The Role of a Stepparent
Stepparents often form strong bonds with their stepchildren. In many cases, they have been a part of the child’s life for several years. They might even have been the only father or mother figure for the child. It’s not surprising that a separation or divorce can be emotionally devastating for both the stepparent and the child.
Will a Court Award Custody to a Stepparent?
Unless the stepparent has legally adopted the child or children in question, it is unlikely for a court to award child custody, but not impossible. There are occasions where the court may consider a non-parent as primary custodian of a child. A non-parent could include people such as grandparents, family friends or other relatives, and of course, stepparents. This happens in limited circumstances and there are several important conditions that the non-parent must meet.
Can a Stepparent File for Child Custody?
Before the court grants a stepparent custody, they must first be eligible to file for it. In Texas, there are certain conditions that make a stepparent eligible to file for custody. These must occur before setting the child custody process in motion in the first place. Basically, the Texas Supreme Court has set forth that there are certain people, labeled non-parents, who have what they term “standing” to seek child custody in court. This includes people who have provided actual care and had possession and control of the child for at least six months. This must have occurred within ninety days prior to the filing of the child custody request. While stepparents are not specifically named as a group that were eligible to file, this description of a non-parent could include stepparents.
When Might the Court Award Custody to a Stepparent?
Once the court deems the stepparent eligible, they will decide whether to grant child custody. The court will generally consider such requests by a non-parent by first determining whether it is in the best interest of the child. After that, at least one of the following must also be true:
- The biological parent(s) are no longer able to provide care for the child. This could include death, desertion, or any number of other reasons.
- The court deems the parent unfit.
- It is not in the best interest of the child for the biological parent(s) to have custody.
What Happens When the Court Awards Custody to a Stepparent?
When the court awards custody of a child to a stepparent, it is referred to as a conservatorship. If they award sole conservatorship to the stepparent, similar to sole custody, they are responsible for all major decisions regarding that child. This includes where the child will live, medical care, and education. They might also award a joint conservatorship where they would be responsible for the same decisions mentioned above, but would share those decisions with another non-parent or sometimes with a biological parent.
It’s also important to note that any non-parent that receives child custody must file a report every twelve months with the court concerning the child’s welfare. Also, in a situation where a stepparent has legally adopted the child, they are viewed as a biological parent in the eyes of the court. It does not restrict them to the limitations of a non-parent. An adoptive parent would, for instance, already have the legal right to seek child custody. They would not have to go through any additional eligibility consideration.
What About Visitation if The Court Denies Custody?
If the court denies child custody or conservatorship, or the stepparent is not eligible to file, a non-parent can request visitation instead. The court will look at several different factors to determine whether they warrant visitation. This may include the amount of time spent with the child and if the non-parent provided financial support. They might also consider other factors such as whether the.non-parent attended extracurricular activities or things like PTA meetings.
The court may also look at the emotional involvement between the child and the non-parent. They will determine whether it would be harmful to the child if the visitation were denied. In addition, the court may interview the child to determine their wishes.
Explore Your Options as a Stepparent
It can be a difficult challenge to pursue child custody or visitation as a stepparent. But there are steps to follow that might make visitation or conservatorship a possibility. Each case is unique. Instead of trying to find the answers on your own, it’s a good idea to explore all of the options with a family law attorney. They will be able to gather information on your particular case, and advise you on the best path to take for your situation.
If you are ready to begin exploring your child custody options as a stepparent, contact Illaraza Law at (214) 646-3253 today. Let their experienced staff provide the support, information, and resources you need to guide your decision making process.