Understanding Child Custody Rights of Stepparents

Understanding Child Custody Rights of StepparentsMany years ago, a large number of families were similar to one another. Today, families can be made up of many different components and may look very different from one another. In today’s society, it is not uncommon for children from a parent’s first marriage to be in a situation where they live with that parent and his or her new spouse, who would be their stepparent, on either a full or part-time basis. In other situations, one of the child’s biological parents may have passed away and the child’s remaining biological parent has begun a new marriage. Some situations may include a child that was born from a pregnancy outside of marriage where a strong relationship with the other biological parent does not exist. Additionally, single people are now more likely to consider their own adoption and may have engaged in adoption before a relationship that results in marriage. In all of these cases and more, there may be a stepparent that enters the child’s life through marriage with one of the biological parents.

General Stepparent Rights

As a Florida stepparent, you are not guaranteed any rights by the law in many situations. For instance, if the child’s biological parent dies before you have legally adopted the child and the other biological parent decides they want to step into the picture and request custody, the court will generally allow that to happen and you will be left with no rights pertaining to that child. Even if you have been the primary provider for the child for an extended period of time and the child’s other biological parent has retained little contact with the child, in the event of a divorce you will have no legal rights to maintain a relationship with that child if the biological parent or parents decides to terminate your contact with the child.

Even is less extreme circumstances, you will need to have legal proof that you have been entrusted to make certain decision for a stepchild that has not been adopted. For instance, if you want to be able to authorize medical treatment for a stepchild you will be required to have a legal form stating you are allowed to do so. The form must be signed by both of the children’s biological parents. However, you are not disallowed by law from having the children in your physical custody or engaging in other aspects of parenting so long as the biological parent you are in a relationship with agrees to allow you to do so. For more complex matters, it is wise to ensure that your role in the child’s life is clearly defined and supported by appropriate documentation. A Florida family law attorney that has experience working with stepparent rights can help you understand more about these different scenarios.

Basic Requirements for Adoption

If you are a stepparent and you wish to adopt the child, you will of course need to do so with the permission of your spouse as she or he is the biological parent of the child. In situations where the other biological parent is deceased, this may be the only thing you will need to worry about as you move forward with the adoption process. However, many times both of the children’s biological parents are still alive. In such situations, you will need the consent of the child’s other biological parent in order to pursue adoption. If the child maintains a significant relationship with both of his or her biological parents, the child’s other biological parent may not be willing to consent to adoption because they risk giving up legal rights regarding that child if something were to happen to the other parent.

In some cases, a child may not maintain a close relationship with both biological parents. If this type of scenario applies to you and your partner has sole legal and physical custody of the child, you may be able to pursue adoption with the other biological parent’s consent. However, even in situations where your spouse has created a last will and testament in which they appoint you to be the child’s guardian in case of their death, a court is not likely to honor that request if the child’s other biological parent wishes to pursue custody. In cases where the other biological parent’s whereabouts are not known, the court will require you to prove that you have made diligent efforts to locate the other biological parent but have been unable to do so. This will involve what the court considers to be an exhaustive search for that parents whereabouts because a Florida court takes termination of a biological parent’s rights to their child very seriously.

If one of the above situations that allows for adoption applies to you and you wish to pursue adoption as a result, you will need to file a Joint Petition for Adoption by Stepparent with your county’s Circuit Court. Depending on the child’s age, the court may also require the child to demonstrate that they consent to you adopting them. A family law attorney that has experience handling adoption can help you understand more information about each of these different situations, and can help guide you through the adoption process.

An Experienced Florida Attorney

Stepparents can be a crucial part of raising a child, and a child’s relationship with a stepparent may closely mirror their relationship with a biological parent. The same familial ties can exist, and a stepparent may feel the same sense of devotion to the child as a biological parent might feel. When something as important as a child’s well-being is involved, it is important that you work with someone that has the experience to ensure your legal concerns are fully addressed and your rights are fully protected. Scott J. Stadler has experience working with a variety of different families on stepparent adoption, and he can help you understand more about the process as well as what it may require. If you are considering stepparent adoption, it is critical that the process be done completely and correctly. Contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation where you will be able to find out more information about what adoption might mean for you as well as what the process could entail.