Stepparents may not have a biological connection to the children of their spouse, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love and support the children in their family as though they were their own. Some stepparents are in the fortunate position to be able to adopt their stepchild.
This option typically only works for situations where the other biological parents already died, the state terminated their parental rights or they voluntarily give up their parental rights. In other words, quite a few stepparents who love their stepchildren may not be in a position to legally adopt those children. That can leave stepparents in a vulnerable place if they want to divorce.
Some people even stay in a miserable marriage solely because they can’t imagine living a life without their beloved stepchildren in it. If your marriage has become too miserable for you to ignore the problems, is your only option to lose out on the relationship with your stepchildren?
If you file an uncontested divorce, your ex might agree to visitation
Couples don’t just have to throw themselves on the mercy of the courts when they divorce. There is always the option of filing an uncontested divorce where the former spouses set all of the terms. It might be possible for you and your ex to agree to either shared custody or a visitation schedule despite you not having a legal parental relationship with children.
If the divorce is particularly contentious, however, you may not be able to trust in the goodwill of your ex regarding access to the children. Does that mean you have to either stay married or lose the children you love?
Arizona law provides opportunities for those who have acted as parents
Although most people who claim visitation or shared custody in a divorce are either biological or adoptive parents, other people, like stepparents and even grandparents, potentially have the right to ask for shared custody or visitation in a divorce as well under third-party custody laws in Arizona.
Provided that these individuals can demonstrate that they acted like a parent, the courts may approve their requests for formal protections of their relationship with the children. Criteria that may help you to establish yourself as a technical, if not legal, parent include financial contributions, serving as a sole caregiver when your spouse had legal or financial issues, or having a long-standing and important emotional bond with the children.
Seeking custody of stepchildren in a contentious divorce can be a difficult prospect, so it is often smart to sit down with a divorce attorney to discuss the situation before you initiate divorce proceedings.