Do Stepparents Have any Custody Rights Following a Divorce in Mississippi?

Although being a stepparent can be a confusing and difficult job in many cases, there are just as many cases in which the biological parent becomes a true parent in every sense of the word. When a divorce occurs, it can be wrenching for the stepparent who suddenly has no rights as well as for the child. In most states, including Mississippi, stepparents do not have custody rights unless a biological parent is considered unfit or voluntarily relinquishes his or her parental rights so the stepparent is able to adopt the child following the divorce. Legal custody rights and responsibilities rarely extend to stepparents although in many cases stepparents are the primary caretaker of the child or children.

Consider the case of a woman with an 18-month old child who remarries. The new wife raises the child, essentially becoming a parent. A decade later, the couple decides to divorce, and suddenly the woman who has been a mother in every way to the child has no rights to custody whatsoever. Not only is this hard on the stepparent who loves the child, it is hard on the child to suddenly have a primary caregiver in his or her life cut out like she never existed. While the courts are beginning to recognize the importance of the role stepparents have played in children’s lives, the laws are slow to catch up.

In some cases a stepparent who has acted as the parent of a child for a significant period of time may be awarded visitation rights although it is likely the stepparent will have to fight for those rights. The courts must believe this visitation is in the best interests of the child, and it will fall to the stepparent to prove that. The longer the relationship with the child, the more likely the courts will grant some form of visitation rights to the stepparent.

The Child’s Best Interests

Courts are routinely charged with determining what is in the best interests of the child; when the bond between the stepparent and child is apparent, and it is clear the child looks at the stepparent in the same way as the biological parent, then visitation rights are possible. Before this can occur, the stepparent must establish standing—the right of a party to be heard. This standing will be largely determined by the prior level of participation in the child’s life.  If the biological parent does not agree that a continuing relationship is in the child’s best interests, a guardian ad litem may be appointed.

The guardian ad litem will look at all the circumstances surrounding the relationship, meeting with the child, the biological parent and the stepparent before making a recommendation to the court. Teachers, neighbors and friends could be interviewed as well—anyone who has some type of personal insight into the relationship between the stepparent and the child. Biological parents need to at least try to put their personal issues aside and truly consider what is best for the child. If the child has enjoyed a lengthy, warm, loving relationship with the stepparent, it could hardly be a positive move to abruptly take that away no matter how awkward the situation might be.

Rights and Responsibilities

Although the stepparent may be granted certain rights following a divorce, those rights may also bring responsibilities—the same responsibilities a biological parent would fall under. The stepparent who receives visitation rights or some form of custody could be held responsible for child support, depending on the specific circumstances. At present, nearly half the states have implemented laws which authorize visitation for stepparents and ten more have granted stepparents the right to seek visitation. Thirteen states grant any interested third party the right to request visitation, including grandparents, other family members or stepparents. Only four states give no rights to stepparents regarding visitation.

When You Need Legal Custody Assistance, Call the Law Offices of Matthew Poole

Stepparents need assistance when seeking visitation rights and Matthew S. Poole has the experience in all types of custody to do just that. Matthew Poole makes a commitment to each and every client to work hard to get that client what they need and deserve whether it is a divorce case or a child custody case. Matthew truly understands the intricacies of many issues related to family law as well as the emotions involved as he is a single dad of young son. In an ongoing effort to provide the very best legal help for his clients, Matthew Poole deliberately keeps a lighter caseload. Call (601) 573-7429 to set up an appointment to discuss your individual circumstances.

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