In recent years, blended families have become increasingly common. A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that approximately 8% of children live in the same household as a stepparent.
As many are aware, the relationship between stepparent and stepchild can be just as meaningful and loving as other parent-child relationships. These bonds are often built and fortified over years and countless shared experiences. Thus, when the underlying marital relationship ends, it’s natural for some stepparents to want to preserve the relationship with their children, even if the marriage has run its course.
If you are wondering what legal rights you may have as a stepparent in Texas, you are not alone. Keep reading to learn more about some important legal considerations for step-parents and step-children to be aware of in Texas. Then, see how the family law attorneys at The Larson Law Office can help you fight for your step-parent rights in TX.
What Stepparent Rights Do I Have?
Generally, stepparents do not have any legal rights concerning their stepchildren after their marriage to the child’s legal parent is terminated. If a stepparent wants to pursue custody, visitation, or other parental rights, the stepparent will have to initiate legal proceedings to obtain an order from the court granting the rights sought.
When Can I Initiate Proceedings to Pursue My Rights as a Stepparent?
To pursue legal rights as a stepparent, you must first have legal “standing” to bring the particular action in court.
Under Texas Law, only specific individuals have standing or are legally authorized to file a lawsuit affecting the parent-child relationship. According to the Texas Family Code section 102.003, any person who has had care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months may pursue a lawsuit seeking rights over the child. Notably, however, such care, control, and possession of the child must have ended no more than 90 days before filing of the lawsuit.
Thus, timing is usually critical when pursuing your rights as a stepparent. If you have questions about whether and to what extent you may have legal rights as a stepparent, don’t wait—speak with an experienced lawyer as soon as practicable.
Types of Rights a Stepparent Can Pursue
Even if you have standing to sue, the path toward pursuing your legal rights as a stepparent is rarely simple. Below are some types of rights you may be able to pursue as a stepparent in Texas, along with some key considerations to keep in mind.
In some cases, it may be appropriate for a stepparent to pursue custody of their stepchild. This is generally referred to as a conservatorship. The child’s conservator has the legal right to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and general welfare.
Typically, the child’s biological or legal parents will be presumed to be the child’s conservator. It can be difficult for stepparents to overcome this presumption. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible. A stepparent might be awarded custody in situations where the child’s biological or legal parents:
- Are no longer living,
- Have voluntarily terminated their legal rights to the child, or
- Are determined unfit parents.
Of course, each case is different, so consult with a qualified legal professional to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding your case to determine your best course of action.
On the other hand, visitation refers to the possession of or access to a child. Even if a stepparent is not awarded custody of a stepchild, they may still be able to pursue visitation with the stepchild.
As with custody rights, stepparents do not have any inherent visitation rights with their children after their marriage to the child’s legal parent ends. That said, it is not impossible by any means.
Impacts of Adoption
One thing to note is that a prior adoption of your stepchild can drastically change your legal rights after divorce.
Sometimes, a stepparent may adopt their stepchild while they are still married to the child’s legal parent. This often occurs when the child’s other parent voluntarily consents to the adoption or is deemed unfit to parent.
If you have previously completed legal proceedings to adopt your stepchild legally, you will have substantially the same rights and responsibilities as the child’s biological parent. As such, this can significantly increase your chances of a successful outcome when pursuing custody and visitation rights.
The Best Interest of the Child Standard
The “best interest of the child” standard is the final item to remember. Under Texas Family Code section 153.002, this will always be the court’s primary consideration in making any decisions related to custody, visitation, or adoption of a child.
Speak with a Texas Family Law Attorney Today
For many stepparents, the relationship with their stepchildren is one of the most important things in their lives. When it comes to something as important as preserving your rights and relationship with your stepchildren, it’s essential to put your case in the hands of someone you can trust.
At The Larson Law Office, providing personalized care, attention, and responsiveness is our top priority. We are a husband and wife team, so when you hire us, that is precisely what you will get—Erik or Diana Larson.
Contact us to discuss your needs and goals, and see how we can help you fight for your rights as a stepparent in Texas today.
Do Stepparents Have Any Default Rights over Their Stepchildren?
Unfortunately, no. By default, stepparents do not have any legal rights over their stepchildren. However, this does not mean stepparents can’t acquire or be granted rights in certain situations.
Can a Stepparent Obtain Custody Rights over a Stepchild in Texas?
Yes. In some cases, a stepparent may be able to pursue custody or visitation rights over their stepchild after their marriage to the child’s biological parent ends. Note, however, that this will generally be permitted in rare circumstances where doing so is determined to be in the best interest of the child.
Should I Hire an Attorney If I Am Pursuing Adoption or Custody Proceedings for a Stepchild?
The decision of whether to hire an attorney is yours. There is no legal requirement that legal counsel must represent you if you are pursuing your legal rights as a stepparent. Nevertheless, having an experienced family law lawyer can provide several valuable benefits to your case as you move forward.