What Kinds of Rights Do Stepparents Have?
When parents go their separate ways, they are free to see and date who they want to. The end result is sometimes marriage; and with kids, that means stepparents. In fact, one out of three Americans is now or has been a stepparent. But, does a stepmom or stepdad have any rights when it comes to your child or children? Let’s explain.
A stepparents’ rights are very limited unless they have legal custody. Even when a child’s biological parents designate a stepparent to handle issues relating to health and education, medical personnel and school officials are not required to make information available to them. Stepparents also do not have the right to file for child custody when divorcing the biological or custodial parent, unless extreme circumstances occur (such as child abuse).
However, there is sometimes a different type of precedent for stepparents’ rights in New Jersey. Known as third-party rights, custody can be awarded to a stepparent if it is found that terminating the relationship with the child can cause harm. These matters are viewed more highly compared to a child’s best interests, which are common in custody cases.
Stepparents have the responsibility of treating a child properly while offering support while the child is living with him or her. However, a stepparent’s income is seldom taken into account when determining child support amounts. A stepparent is also not expected to provide support while the child is living outside of their home.
When it comes to the issue of adoptions, things change. Adoptions by stepparents, which are the most common adoptions across the country, occur when a child’s custodial parent remarries and that parent is unable, unwilling, or legally unfit to continue their parenting duties.
In order for a stepparent adoption to occur, the biological or custodial parent must give up their parental rights. In the Garden State, parental rights can be non-voluntarily terminated if the child’s biological or custodial parent is determined to be legally unfit. A court usually determines abandonment and neglect as the primary factors.
According to New Jersey law, a stepparent is required to be 18 years old or older when filing for adoption. The stepparent must also be at least 10 years older than the child he or she is attempting to gain custody of. In certain instances, the age requirement can be waived, but each stepparent adoption is decided on a case-by-case basis.
At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we settle a variety of family disputes; including sorting through the rights of stepparents. If your family is involved in a messy custody case, contact our offices today for a free consultation.