What happens when a step-parent wants custody?

Losing a spouse is one of the most challenging things a person may have to go through. In some instances, the loss may come at an even higher price.

In the case of second marriages with children, a step-parent may take a healthy and active role in raising children. When the biological parent dies, that step-parent may wind up grieving the loss of the children as well. While it is typical for children to live with a biological parent, North Carolina law allows for third-parties to petition for custody as well. Explore what the court looks for and why a step-parent may end up continuing a relationship with a non-biological child.

A relationship must exist

When a third-party wants custody of a child, the court must look at many factors. First, the petitioner must demonstrate that he or she has the standing to bring the custody case by showing that a relationship with the children exists. For example, a grandparent who has only spent limited time with the children may not have enough standing to bring a custody action; however, one who resides in the home with the children most likely does. As such, the third-party must first demonstrate an established relationship with the children.

The best interests of the child

The standard by which most family courts decide custody is what course of action is best for the children. During a divorce, the judge may have to decide if one parent is unsuitable for custody or majority time-sharing. However, in the case of determining custody where a third-party files a petition, the judge may take the “best interest” standard a step further. In the case of a step-parent, the court may decide:

  • That the step-parent acts as a primary parent
  • That the child will suffer if the step-parent does not have custody or visitation
  • That the child’s relationship with the step-parent takes priority over the biological parent

The court may rule that a step-parent or other third-party receives visitation rights, and in some cases, legal custody of children. Get more information into this process by contacting a family law attorney.