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What Are My Rights as a Stepparent After a Divorce?

Modern families are often far different from the staid, traditional model of the 50’s sitcom. Simply being related by blood is no longer the highest qualification for members. Stepparents play a huge role in children’s lives. For some, a stepparent is the only other parent they’ve ever known.

Legally, however, family is still firmly rooted in blood relation. From inheritance to child custody, blood is given immediate precedent. A stepparent is not a legally recognized parent, regardless of their bond with the child or the role they took in raising that child.

Divorce is difficult and scary for many reasons, and if you’re a stepparent, that fear can be compounded. Among your other concerns about property and support, you may be scared of losing your ability to see your stepchildren.

Luckily, California understands the importance of a stepparent in a child’s life. For the last couple of decades, it has granted more rights to stepparents after a divorce.

If you are a stepparent, here are some rights you may be able to retain after a divorce.

The Right to Visitation

While you may not be able to retain any officially recognized percentage of custody, you may be able to regularly see the kids.

Visitation can be either personal or electronic, meaning you can take the kids out on certain days or schedule facetime visits with them. Both are equally valid in the eyes of the law, and they cannot be blocked by the child’s parent(s). With visitation, you schedule specific times to be with the kids, usually on a consistent basis. For instance, you can visit with them every Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

Remember that courts always intend to operate in the best interests of children. Because of the legal complexities surrounding parenthood, you must plead your case to gain visitation.

Essentially, you must convince the court that your continued involvement in the child’s life is best for them. Within your case, you must give evidence of how your inclusion enhances the child’s life, and you should explain that your absence will be a detriment. Your attorney’s involvement will be invaluable here. They know how to craft such arguments in court, and their experience is crucial at this time.

Child Support Rights

Popular culture tends to paint child support in a negative light. We always encourage parents to see it as a privilege. It allows you to stay in the child’s life. It also gives you peace of mind, knowing the child’s needs are met. Finally, it can give you a sense of satisfaction, knowing you contribute to the child’s welfare by meeting those needs.

As a stepparent, you can choose to act “in loco parentis.” This allows you to treat the child as your own, taking on responsibilities normally reserved for full, legal parents. Child support is one such responsibility. Talk to your attorney about your options for acting as a parent, and see if they can help you earn child support rights.


You may have the option to adopt the child, keeping you from jumping through the hoops described above. If the marriage is falling apart, there could be challenges to adopting. The child’s legal parent may attempt to block you. In this case, you will need help from an attorney. You must build an argument for why you deserve full parenthood, proving it is in the child’s best interests. The child’s wishes will be factored into the final decision, so make sure they want you as their full parent.

If the child already has two, actively involved parents, you really have no option to adopt. If, however, one parent is unfit, you may be able to plea for the child’s safety in court. If you can prove that either legal parent is abusive or neglectful, you could have their parenthood revoked. This is a long, complicated process, and it isn’t easy. Revocation of parental rights is a serious matter, and courts don’t make such decisions lightly.

The only other option for adoption is a parent giving up their rights. This is a paperwork process that takes place in the courts, but once it’s over, the parent has no legal claim to the child. In that case, you can begin the adoption process without their interference.

If you have concerns about your continued relationship with your stepchild after a divorce, reach out to our firm for help. You can contact us online, or call us today at (916) 299-3936.