When you’re divorcing in North Carolina, you might wonder what the law has to say about stepparents and their rights to child custody and visitation. Families come in all shapes and sizes today. When parents divorce, it can also mean severing a tie between a stepparent and a child who depends on that person for care and financial support.
Standing for adoptive parents
If a stepparent formally adopts a child, they are a legal parent to the child. They have equal standing with the biological parent. The court looks at all of the usual factors that apply when the court determines care and custody for the child after a divorce. The biological parent and the stepparent are on equal terms when it comes to making a determination about what’s best for the child.
Standing for stepparents who haven’t adopted
When a stepparent hasn’t adopted the child, the answer is more complicated. In limited circumstances, the court may allow a stepparent to have a small amount of visitation with a child after a divorce. The purpose of the visitation is for the child’s benefit in cases where the stepparent served in the role of a parent for a long period of time.
To determine whether to award visitation with a child after a stepparent’s divorce from the child’s legal parent, the court looks at how long the stepparent has acted as a parent to the child and whether the parent has provided financial support for the child. The court also looks at the situation from the legal parent’s point of view. The court considers whether the legal parent essentially put the stepparent in the role of a parent. There’s no standing to request visitation for paid help like a nanny or babysitter.
In cases where there are already two legal parents involved in the child’s life, the courts are hesitant to extend parenting rights to a third person. In cases where a parent shares custody with the child’s other legal parent, subsequently marries a person who becomes a stepparent and then divorces the stepparent, the courts don’t typically allow the stepparent to claim visitation. However, each case is unique and depends on the exact circumstances of the case. All divorce cases are inherently complex, and it’s important to speak with a divorce professional in order to explore the nuances of North Carolina law and how it applies to your case.