Can a Stepfather Gain Custody of a Stepchild?
There are many situations in which a stepparent, rather than a biological parent, is one of the primary caregivers throughout a child’s life. For example, consider a situation when a mother divorces when the child is at a very young age, and remarries within a brief time frame; the stepfather may now raise the child from an early age for many years, and often even into the child’s teenage or adult years.
Indeed, there are many stepchildren who refer to their stepfathers (or mothers) as their dad (or mom), and many stepfathers who would never think to distinguish between their stepchildren and their biological children. Which is one of the reasons that a divorce involving a biological parent and a stepparent may be so emotional – not only may the child have to live through a divorce a second time, but both the child and the stepfather may fear that their relationships will be permanently interrupted.
Can a Stepfather Seek Custody or Visitation with a Stepchild?
While the majority of child custody cases in Virginia involve biological parents, it is possible for a stepfather (or for that matter, another third party) to seek custody or visitation with a stepchild. To be sure, Virginia Code Section 20-124.2(B) holds that while the court should give due regard to the primacy of the parent-child relationship, the court will consider evidence that shows by clear and convincing evidence that the best interests of the child would be served by custody/visitation to “any other person with a legitimate interest.” The law continues to read that the court may award sole or joint custody.
Situations in Which a Stepparent May Be Awarded Custody of a Stepchild
Virginia courts maintain a presumption in favor of biological parents, but if there is enough evidence to hold that giving sole custody to the biological parent and denying the stepparent any custodial rights would be bad for the child, then a stepparent may be awarded sole or joint custody. A stepfather may be awarded custody when: there is evidence that the child would suffer harm if visitation with the stepfather were denied; and there is evidence that visitation with the stepfather is within the child’s best interests.
A stepfather may also be awarded primary custody of a stepchild if there is evidence that the child’s biological mother is unfit to serve as a primary caregiver. For example, if the mother is abusive, suffers from mental illness, is unable to support herself or the child, or is engaging in illegal behavior, the child’s best interests may be served by the stepfather being awarded custody.
The court will of course also consider the relationship that the stepparent and the stepchild maintain, the length of that relationship, and the amount of care the stepfather has provided for the stepchild. Again, there are many cases in which stepparents and stepchildren do not acknowledge the fact that they are not related biologically, and love and care for each other just as biologically related children and parents would. A review of the evidence may show that a stepfather has acted as a biological father throughout the child’s life, has served as a primary caregiver, and has shown love and support, and holds the child out to be his own. In this case, it is not unlikely that the stepfather would be awarded at least partial custody of the child. Depending upon the child’s age, the child’s opinion of custody may also be considered.
Helping You to Seek Custody of Your Stepchild in Virginia
If you are a stepfather who is getting a divorce in Virginia, you may be very worried about how the divorce will affect your relationship with your stepchildren. While it is true that you will likely face more hurdles than a biological parent, remember that the court wants what’s best for the child – with the right evidence and testimony, our attorneys can help you to prove that you’re what’s best.
To schedule a consultation with our law offices and start the process of building your child custody case today, please call us at 434-977-7977, send us a brief description of your situation using our intake form, or drop by our Charlottesville office on East High Street.