As a Non-Biological Stepparent, What Are My Rights As a Stepparent?

If you are a stepparent in a marriage, you have specific legal rights to adopt your stepchildren during or after your divorce, if both biological parents agree.

Even without an adoption it is not uncommon for non-biological children to become highly attached to their stepfather or stepmother. Although not “blood” related, your children see you as a “real” mother or father in every sense of the word. In these cases, it could be highly traumatic and detrimental to the child to be separated from a stepparent they have come to love and whose relationship they’ve had and need in their lives.

The New Jersey divorce courts (as do most states) always place the child’s well-being as their main point of reference for any legal decision they make.

However, in most cases, non-adopting stepparents attempting to share joint custody (or even sole custody) arrangements have fewer rights than biological parents. While stepparents can receive certain legal rights concerning their stepchild, doing so often requires navigating a legal agreement with at least one (and usually both) of the child’s biological parents.

This is a complex area of New Jersey’s divorce law, and it still commonly stands that a child’s “biological” parent maintains a much more significant standing in the courts’ eyes and decisions, unless there has been a step parent adoption. However, it’s also an area that may be in direct conflict with the feelings and needs of the child in question! It’s an area of divorce law where you must have the help, guidance, and professional help of an experienced Morris County divorce lawyer

If As a Stepparent, I’ve Adopted My Child; Do the Biological Parents Still Have Rights?

The biological parent’s rights have been terminated by the court and adopted by you. In that case there are no set legal provisions for reinstating the birth parents’ rights or reversing an adoption decree. Unless, however, certain circumstances such as fraud, duress, coercion, etc., were utilized by the stepparent.

Also, for a stepparent to adopt a stepchild, the child’s biological parent must voluntarily surrender their parental rights. Or, the birth parents have been proven to be “unfit” to care for, house, or bring up the child.

You must note that the New Jersey court will always attempt to protect and side with what’s in the child’s best interests. Suppose you and your detailed and thorough Morris County divorce lawyer prove that the biological parents are “unfit parents” in any way.   What happens then?

What Are Some Things I Need To Know To Adopt As a Stepparent?

Statistically, almost 40% of first marriages in New Jersey result in divorce. In second marriages, 60% may divorce, etc. All types of family relationships are in flux and can change rapidly.
Sometimes, during the marriage, stepparents want to make their family relationships official by adopting their spouse’s children. Currently, stepparent adoption is just behind foster parent adoption as the most common type. It’s vital to know that as stepparents, your “parental rights” are limited, but by adopting their spouse’s children, that all changes.

First and most importantly, if you, as a stepparent, want to ensure that your parental rights are protected, then the help of an experienced and qualified Morris County adoption lawyer is mandatory. 

In almost all cases, your empathetic and knowledgeable adoption (or divorce) lawyer will be familiar with the New Jersey divorce and adoption laws and have mastered the procedures necessary to get a positive outcome in your case. The close support of a winning and aggressive divorce or adoption lawyer will give you the facts you must know and the peace of mind to move forward and follow the requirements to adopt your stepchild.

For What Reasons Can a Biological Parent Forfeit Their Parental Rights?

Because they are the child’s biological parents, they always give them an “edge” in the care and custody of their child. However, some factors could lead to the loss of a custody battle for their child in New Jersey, such as; whether there are alleged or proven substance abuse mental issues.

The New Jersey court has more, but there are essentially three reasons why a biological parent could lose custody; they are:

  • Mental or physical health – Having issues with mental health does not automatically prevent a biological parent from keeping their child. However, if the impact on their mental state is severe enough, then they may be found to be mentally unfit.
  • Abuse or neglect – This is one of the most common reasons biological parents lose custody battles, or care, of their children.
  • Substance abuse – The New Jersey court takes drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and addiction seriously in any custody case. Abuse of any kind is weighed heavily, as it could jeopardize the child’s health, safety, and welfare.

A Morris County divorce lawyer’s guidance, knowledge, and thorough help are mandatory in all these cases.

I’m a Stepparent and Divorcing With Children Involved; How Should I Proceed?

First, each case of this type is unique, but understand that you may have some of the cards stacked against you as a stepparent. Suppose you want to have visitation rights for your non-biological child after divorce. In that case, you must consult and work with a qualified, winning, detailed, and aggressive Morris County divorce lawyer.

Yes, what you and your child wish for can be accomplished, but the biological parent will always hold a legal “edge.” There are competent and successful lawful means to fight that edge, and your experienced law team will know how to proceed successfully, and your and your child’s behalf.