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What happens to children when stepparents divorce?

It is no surprise the children can become connected to the stepparent, and that the stepparent can grow to also view the children as their own, someone they care for and love as they would their own biological children. Data from a recent study conducted by Pew Research Organization supports this belief, finding that over 70% of adults who have at least one step-relative are very satisfied with their family life.

Unfortunately, this family structure, like any other, can crumble. A divorce can lead the parents and the children to wonder what will happen with the stepparent/child relationship.

Is it possible for a stepparent to continue a legal relationship with stepchildren after divorce?

This is not an uncommon question. A recent case digs into the issue and provides some guidance. It involves a couple who married in 2015. The wife brought with her two biological children, ages six and four at the time. The children had no contact with their biological father. The husband took on the role of stepfather to the children. He had injuries from his service in the military and was unable to work outside the home, so he became the primary caretaker for the two children while the mother worked outside the home.

Five years after their marriage, stepfather filed for divorce. During the divorce, he fought for custody of his stepchildren. To make its determination, the court dug into the best interests of the children. This often involves a review of several factors, such as the relationship and interactions of all involved, the wishes of the parents and children, and the mental and physical health of all involved. Examples examined by the court specific to this case included:

  • Mother’s focus on her self-interests over the children’s.
  • Inconsistencies. The court also noted the mother was inconsistent in many areas, including her testimony before the court.
  • Criminal record. The police have records arresting the mother for shoplifting.

With this information, the court found that it was in the best interest of the children to have parenting time with their stepfather.

How does this apply to other, similar cases in Indiana?

The case provides some precedent, or guidance, on how other courts in Indiana will determine similar legal issues. In general, Indiana state law gives stepparents the right to seek visitation rights when they are the primary caregiver of the children, as was the case in this situation. As noted by the court, the state has found that the child’s interest in maintaining a relationship in these types of situations can trump a biological parent’s right to direct that child’s upbringing. As such, there is the possibility that stepparents can legally fight for a continued relationship with their stepchildren after a divorce.