What are Stepparents’ Rights in Divorce?

Divorce is hard on everyone. It can be especially hard on stepparents who invest a lot of time and love with the children of their spouse during the marriage. When the marriage ends, the biological parent in the marriage has custody rights of their children. Stepparents are often forced to stay on the sidelines while the children go live elsewhere with one or both of their biological parents.

In today’s families, many marriages end in divorce. This includes parents who have minor children. When the parents move on and remarry, the stepparents become emotionally attached to the minor children, and vice versa. Many children today grow up with two sets of parents – their biological parents and their stepparents.

According to the Stepfamily Foundation:

  • There are children involved in 2/3 of the breakups or divorces in America
  • The length of the average American marriage is just seven years
  • 50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner

Do stepparents get visitation?

In the best cases, the biological parents and the stepparent reach an amicable agreement to keep the stepparent in the child’s life. When the biological parents won’t work with the stepparent, Tennessee does provide some help for the stepparent. There is no authority for custody rights on behalf of a stepparent – unless the stepparent adopted the child. In adoption cases, the stepparent has full rights to claim legal and physical custody as if she/he were a biological parent.

Tennessee Statute 36-6-303 authorizes visitation rights for stepparents under certain conditions.

The two conditions are:

  • Visitation by the stepparent must be in the best interests of the child
  • Visitation rights will only be granted if the stepparent is also providing financial support for the child

The statute gives the court the right to modify the visitation agreement or order during the child’s minority. Tennessee’s visitation rights law is the exception rather than the rule. Most states do not give stepparents visitation rights.

Factors in stepparents’ rights cases

The family court will review a number of factors in deciding what is in the best interests of the child, such as:

  • The amount of time the stepparent took care of the children and essentially acted as a parent
  • The bond between the stepparent and the children
  • The involvement or lack of involvement of the other biological parent

The bottom line is – what is in the best interests of the child.

At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our visitation lawyers understand the changing world of families. We fight to show that children are better off when their parental relationships continue after a divorce. We fight to assert the rights of stepparents to be involved in the lives of the children they’ve come to love and cherish. For help with all aspects of child custody and visitation, call us at 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent stepparents and stepchildren who live in or near Franklin, Columbia and Brentwood, Tennessee.