Do Stepparents Have Rights?
The picture of the “average” American family has changed significantly in recent years, and millions of people are living in family units that involve stepparents and stepchildren. In fact, according to US Census Bureau statistics, 1300 new stepfamilies are formed every day.
Stepparents and stepchildren can form bonds that are just as strong as those formed in biological relationships. It’s not surprising, then, that many stepparents wonder whether they have any rights with regard to their stepchildren. Unfortunately, under Florida law, stepparents do not automatically have parental rights in their stepchildren – but they can obtain them by legally adopting their stepchildren.
The issue of child custody is perhaps where the issue of stepparent rights arises most often. If a stepparent divorces his or her stepchild’s biological parent, the stepparent will have no right to child custody, regardless of how long they have known the child or acted as the child’s parent. For this reason, it’s in your best interest as a stepparent to take steps to secure your rights before any issues arise between you and your stepchild’s biological parents.
It’s important to recognize that, as a stepparent, you cannot be held responsible for child support in the event that you and your child’s biological parent divorce. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from choosing to support your stepchild financially, but a court cannot compel you to pay child support against your will.
Establishing a Legal Relationship with Your Stepchild
The only way to establish parental rights in your stepchild in Florida is for you to legally adopt him or her. In Florida, adoption is governed by Section 63.042 of the Florida Statutes. Under that law, a stepparent can adopt a stepchild with the consent of the child’s biological parent. This is common in situations where the biological parent is largely absent from the child’s life.
If you cannot obtain the consent of the absent parent to the stepparent adoption, you may petition the court to terminate the parent’s rights and grant the adoption. There are different situations in which this occurs:
- The biological parent has abandoned or deserted the child
- The biological parent is deemed incompetent without the probability of competency returning in the future
- The biological parent is found to be otherwise unfit to parent the child or a danger to the child
- The parent is incarcerated for an extended period of time
- The parent has refused to comply with court-ordered parenting plans
An experienced lawyer can assess the situation and advise whether termination may be feasible.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Family Law Attorney in South Florida
At the Law Office of Mark G. Rodriguez, P.A., we are dedicated to helping stepparents cultivate meaningful personal and legal relationships with their stepchildren. To schedule a free consultation with a family law lawyer in South Florida, call our office today at 813-227-9642 or send us an email through our online contact form.