Step-children and ending your relationship

Becoming a step-parent, especially to young children, can mean taking on an important role in their lives and having a special connection.  If your marriage to their parent ends in divorce, your future relationship with these children can be uncertain.

Legal Relationship

Step-parents do not have legal rights to their step-children which means they can’t ask for custody during divorce.  The only exception is when the step-parent has legally adopted their step-child.  Wisconsin law does, however, allow step-parents to petition for reasonable visitation with their step-children as long as it is in the child’s best interest.   When the step-parents can prove that they have a bond with the child and that the child would be harmed by losing contact with them, a court may be inclined to grant visitation.

Agreements with the Parent

Most divorces will end in a settlement between the parties.  Coming up with your own agreement means having the flexibility and freedom to include terms which a court would not put in its order.  When it comes to step-children, the parent and step-parent could include an agreement about visitation and even future step-parent support.  As long as the court is satisfied that these terms are in the children’s best interest, the parent and step-parent can agree to them.

The Step-parent Relationship

Transitioning into the role of former step-parent can be difficult for both you and your step-children.  While you were once a parent figure and shared a home, you now live somewhere else and may or may not have regular contact with the children.  If you are remaining in their lives, it is important to maintain boundaries when it comes to their parent.  For instance, you would not want to ask them questions about their parent’s new relationship.  Your connection with the children needs to be about you and them and not about keeping tabs on their mother or father.  If you do not expect to have ongoing contact, you and the other parent should work together to help the kids as they adjust to seeing you less.

Ideally, if you have a positive relationship with your step-children, their parent will see the importance of allowing them to continue to see you.  However, it may also be that the children and their parent need to move on with their lives without you.  By working with their parent, you can make decisions which support the children.

Attorney Karyn Youso has extensive family law experience and understands the impact that divorce can have on family relationships.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation to take a “first look” at your situation and go through your options.

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