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The Rights of Stepparents in Divorce

Iwanyshyn & Associates May 24, 2023

Judge Mallet Between The Split Paper Cutout Family And CarToday, many modern families in the U.S. are blended comprising a stepparent, half-sibling, or step-sibling. According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, about 40% of families in the United States are blended. Unfortunately, the relationship between the stepchildren and their stepparent may be affected due to a divorce. Nonetheless, stepparents might still be eligible to seek custody or parenting time, depending on their relationship with the stepchild, whether they adopted the child, and other surrounding circumstances. 

At Iwanyshyn & Associates, we are committed to offering comprehensive guidance and advocacy to clients in divorce and child custody matters. Our experienced family law attorneys can enlighten you about your child custody, child support, and visitation rights as the stepparent in a divorce. Also, our trusted team will advocate for your rights and help protect your family’s best interests. We’re proud to serve clients across Allison Park, Cranberry, Gibsonia, Wexford, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

If the Parent Adopted the Child vs. If They Didn’t  

During a divorce or legal separation, the parental right of a stepparent will depend on whether they adopted the child or not. If the stepparent adopted their partner’s child successfully during the marriage, they will have all the legal and parental rights afforded to the child’s biological parent. Due to this, the stepparent will be entitled to child custody and parenting time. 

Conversely, if the stepparent didn’t adopt their spouse’s child prior to the divorce, getting a child custody award may be difficult. In some cases, any legal ties between the stepparent and their estranged partner’s child will be severed in a divorce. Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania court may still award parenting time or visitation to the stepparent in the divorce settlement. 

Custody Rights 

Furthermore, seeking custody during a divorce allows the stepparent to maintain a relationship with the stepchild and remain involved in the child’s life. To seek custody, the stepparent must prove that: 

  • they have a strong relationship with the child; 

  • they shared or participated in caring for the child; and, 

  • awarding child custody to the stepparent would be in the best interests of the child. 

In addition, the stepparent may be able to establish custodial rights if they can establish in loco parentis – (meaning: in place of the parent). This requires proving that the stepparent acted as a parent to their estranged spouse’s child even without a formal adoption. In some cases, the court may award primary custody to the stepparent. 

Visitation Rights 

According to Pennsylvania law, other individuals that are close to or have a relationship with the child can seek visitation. However, in order to grant parenting time or visitation rights to the stepparent, the court will consider the factors below: 

  • the level of parenting involvement of the stepparent 

  • the length of time a stepparent acted in loco parentis 

  • the emotional dependence of the child on the stepparent 

  • whether the child views the stepparent as a parenting figure 

  • the level of independence of the parenting function of the stepparent 

Actually, the aforementioned factors are considered by the Pennsylvania court when awarding both child custody and visitation. A practiced Pennsylvania child custody attorney can help file your petition and seek to protect your custody and visitation rights. 

Child Support 

What’s more, in Pennsylvania, stepparents don’t usually have child support obligations. In fact, the law holds that stepparents are not legally required to provide financial support to their spouse’s child when there is no adoption. 

However, if the stepparent is seeking parental or other any other affirmative right during the divorce process, they may be ordered to pay child support. For instance, the court may ask a parent who stood in loco parentis to pay child support after the divorce. 

Understand Your Rights and Expectations 

Unfortunately, a divorce or legal separation may put the relationship between a stepparent and their spouse’s child at risk. In order to continue participating in their stepchild’s life, the stepparent may be eligible to seek child custody, support, or parenting time. A seasoned family law attorney can enlighten you about your possible legal options and help you navigate crucial decisions. 

At Iwanyshyn & Associates, our attorneys are dedicated to guiding clients through the complexities involved in establishing child custody and visitation as a stepparent in a divorce. As your legal counsel, we can help file your petition and guide you through every phase of the court process. In addition, we will work diligently with all parties to establish a feasible child custody, support, and parenting time agreement. 

Contact us at Iwanyshyn & Associates today to schedule an initial consultation with a reliable divorce lawyer. Our dedicated attorneys can offer you the highly-personalized legal counsel, support, and reliable advocacy you need to navigate key decisions. We proudly serve clients across Allison Park, Cranberry, Gibsonia, Wexford, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.