Divorce is complicated. Remarrying is complicated. And getting divorced a second time is even more complicated. If children are involved, it can be downright confusing and very stressful. What are the basics that stepparents should know when divorcing a spouse who has children from a previous marriage?
Stepparents and Child Custody
It is rare for stepparents to get legal custody of children in a divorce, as children will be much more likely to stay with one of their biological parents. However, there are rare instances of a stepmother or stepfather getting custody or joint custody. If the biological parent or parents have been found unfit to parent or if they are no longer living, if the biological parent or parents have given up their rights, or if the stepparent has legally adopted the child in the years before the divorce, a stepparent might gain custody.
Stepparents and Child Visitation
Even though you will not likely gain custody of your stepchildren, it is increasingly common for stepparents to ask for and receive visitation rights after a divorce from the children’s parent. Getting visitation rights in Washington depends heavily on the best interests of the child. If you have a deep, long-term relationship with the child that is key to their happiness and development, the court will likely wish you to have access to that child.
Stepparents and Child Support
Washington State has a statute that legally obligates stepparents to help financially support any stepchildren living in their household. However, this obligation usually ends when parents divorce. Child support payments are usually only the responsibility of the biological parents. There are exceptions, of course. If you have legally adopted the children, for example, you may need to make child support payments.
It is important to note, though, that many stepparents continue relationships with their stepchildren even after a divorce, even though there may not be a legal agreement. Especially if they cared for the children for many years, it is normal for both stepparent and stepchild to extend their emotional bond and spend time with each other.
Ten Questions to Ask Yourself as a Stepparent
As if issues involving marriage, children, and divorce aren’t complicated enough, try figuring out what to do if you are navigating a divorce as part of a blended family. Depending on their circumstances and history, some stepparents wish to seek child visitation rights after divorce (or, in rare cases, child custody). Other stepparents are concerned about their financial and emotional obligations to stepchildren after a divorce.
Before you even get to the legal aspect of the process, it is important to evaluate the situation—and your own feelings—in a general manner. Here are ten questions to ask to get started:
- How long have I been involved in my stepchild’s life?
- How much financial support do I give to my stepchild?
- How much emotional support and time do I give to my stepchild?
- What is the depth of the relationship I have with my stepchild?
- Do I wish to continue to support the stepchild emotionally and financially?
- Has the child’s other biological parent given up his or her parental rights, or have they been found unfit to parent?
- Do I wish to seek child visitation rights?
- Do I have the wish or opportunity to seek custody or adopt the child?
- Does the child wish to continue his or her relationship with me?
- What is in the best interest of my stepchild?
Are you getting a divorce and worried about the outcome for your blended family? Are you confused about your rights as a stepparent under Washington State law?
Washington Child Custody Attorney
Contact a Seattle child custody attorney at the Law Office of Molly B. Kenny today to secure legal representation today: 425-460-0550. Get help and answers from one of the experienced Bellevue child custody attorneys at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny. Call us today to schedule your first meeting: 425-460-0550.