Step-Parents and Custody Rights in a Michigan Divorce
Marrying someone who has a child or children from a previous relationship brings with it a variety of additional challenges, beyond the run-of-the-mill difficulties many married couples face. Not only can it be hard for step-parents to bond with children who already have two parents they love, but taking on the responsibilities of caring for children and being an authority figure and a role model is a lot to ask anyone.
Of course, the bigger problem may come not from the struggle to bond with children, but from the hardship associated with separating from them in the event of divorce. What can you do when you fall in love with your step-children only to have them taken away when your relationship with their biological parent falls apart? Do step-parents in Michigan have any custodial rights following a divorce?
There is only one legal way for a step-parent to gain custodial rights in the event of divorce and that is through adoption. In the state of Michigan, a step-parent is considered a “legal stranger”, even when married to a biological parent. This means that they have no legal claim to children.
The situation changes if a legal adoption takes place, but this can also be a difficult process. First, the biological parent a step-parent is married to must have custody of the children and must consent to the adoption. Even then, the other biological parent must first agree to terminate all physical and legal custody, losing even the right for visitation (along with the requirement to pay child support).
If the other biological parent refuses, it will be very hard for the adoption to proceed. A court may decide to involuntarily terminate the other biological parent’s rights, in which case adoption by a step-parent could proceed, but such an act would require extreme circumstances. In the event that the other biological parent is deceased, the process would be easier.
If the adoption is finalized, the step-parent gains permanent legal responsibility for children. In the event of a divorce, a step-parent is treated with the same legal rights and duties as a biological parent, which means you may petition for custody and you may be required to provide care and child support.
If you are not able to adopt step-children, you have very little legal standing to gain custody following a divorce. It is extremely unlikely the court would favor a step-parent over the legal rights of a biological parent. There is another possibility, though: visitation.
A step-parent can play an important role in children’s lives as a caregiver, role model, and parental figure. Children may suffer mental, emotional, and even physical distress when a step-parent is cut out of their lives during a divorce.
For this reason, step-parents can seek court-ordered visitation time with children following a Michigan divorce. It’s not easy to accomplish, as the step-parent bears the burden of proving that children will suffer some harm from being deprived of an ongoing relationship with a loving step-parent, but it’s much easier than trying to gain custody.
If you’re facing divorce and the prospect of losing not only a spouse, but beloved step-children that you’ve come to feel responsible for, contact the experienced professionals at The Gucciardo Law Firm now at 248-723-5190 to learn more about your legal options.
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