Stepparents and Custodial Rights

Under the custody laws, when parents split up, both parents often will go to court or come to an agreement on a custody schedule. What happens, when a parent and a non-biological parent separate? Oftentimes, the non-biological parent may have been very involved in the child or children’s lives. If that non-biological parent did not adopt the child, they can still sue for visitation and/or custody of the child or children under in loco parentis. This means that they have the right to go to court to seek scheduled time with the children, be that primary custody, partial custody or visitation even though they are not the biological parent and even if both biological parents have their own custody schedule.

In some instances, one or both of the biological parents may object and say that they did not act in loco parentis and therefore they cannot bring a case. This, however, is often, if not always overcome in a stepparent relationship. To establish in loco parentis, the stepparent has to show that they discharged parental duties with the permission of a parent. Given that in a household both the parent and stepparent usually handle matters together such as paying the bills, driving children around for activities, going to school functions, helping with homework, it is not difficult to see why it would be difficult to say a stepparent did nothing for the child or children.

The standard that the court uses to determine the custodial schedule for a stepparent is no different than the standard used to determine custody for the child generally and that is the best interest of the child. There are instances where a stepparent ends up with primary custody if the circumstances warrant it. Generally, however, a stepparent, should anticipate that the court will give more preference to the biological parents as primary or joint custodians with the stepparent getting some time carved in there if it is in the child or children’s best interest.