Does a Stepparent Have Any Legal Rights?
20 August 2022IN: Divorce
Blended and non-traditional families are increasingly common today, and stepparents are playing a major role in the support and development of their stepchildren. Many people assume that a stepparent has no legal rights with regard to their spouse’s child unless they adopt the child, however, this is not true. Under Tennessee law, stepparents have a number of rights that allow them to maintain a bond with their spouse’s child in the event their relationship with their spouse dissolves or their spouse is no longer able to care for their child.
What Rights do Stepparents Have in Tennessee?
Kinship Foster Care. If a child is removed from the custody of their biological parent, stepparents in Tennessee are eligible to be considered as a kinship foster care placement. This gives them preference over other possible placements for the child. In fact, courts will give preference to stepparents over more distant relatives or strangers because they believe it is in the best interest of the child to have as much stability as possible, particularly in a tumultuous time. This kind of placement is also preferred because it allows the child to remain connected to a familiar relative and their family.
Adoption Preference. Stepparents always have the option to adopt a stepchild if the stepchild’s other biological parent has waived their parental rights or has willfully abandoned the child. However, stepparents will also get preference to adopt the child if their other biological parent is unable to care for them. A stepparent can request that the biological parent (their spouse or former spouse) waive their parental rights or petition the court to show evidence that their spouse or former spouse has willfully abandoned the child. Adoption is generally a much smoother process for stepparents, and courts waive many of the formalities and requirements that are a part of traditional adoptions, including home studies, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. In cases where one biological parent has waived their parental rights, stepparent adoptions are almost always approved by the court without issue.
Reasonable visitation. If a stepparent and the child’s parent divorce, you may think the stepparent has no right to see the child at that point, but you would be wrong. If the child and the stepparent have formed a bond such that the court finds it would be in the child’s best interest to continue seeing them, the court will award reasonable visitation to the stepparent. In making the decision about whether visitation is in the child’s best interest, the court may consider several factors, including whether the length of time that the child has known the stepparent and whether the stepparent can help meet the needs of the child.
Schedule a Consultation with the Law Office of David L. Scott in Murfreesboro
If you are a stepparent struggling to exercise your rights, the Law Office of David L. Scott can help. Contact David L. Scott today to schedule a consultation.