Despite not having a biological relationship, stepparents can still play a vital role in the upbringing of a child. Stepparents can take on the responsibility of raising the child in their formative years, bringing the child to and from school as well as caring for them when they are ill.
What if a stepparent wants to make their relationship with their stepchild more secure?
Can stepparents adopt?
Typically, the courts in Pennsylvania will uphold the rights of a natural parent. Therefore, before a stepparent adoption can take place, the birth parent must agree to relinquish all parental rights. Where the biological parent does not agree to this, adoption may only occur in extenuating circumstances. Therefore, stepparent adoptions usually only take place when one of the biological parents has been out of the picture for a while.
Do stepparents have custody rights?
Unless the child has been adopted, stepparents will not have automatic rights to custody and visitation. However, even if the formal adoption process has not taken place, there are still means of establishing custody rights.
If the stepparent can prove that they have carried out their duties towards the child in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), this will heighten their chances of being granted visitation or custody rights. They will have to show the courts that they have behaved in the same manner as a biological parent. For example, the natural parent and stepparent should have lived together as a family and shared the role of caring for the child.
The legal rights of stepparents are generally considered by judges on a case-by-case basis. The key motivation of the court will be to offer a solution that is in the child’s best interests. Familiarizing yourself with your legal rights as a stepparent can help protect the parent-child relationship you value so much.