There is no blueprint that shows the perfect parent. Great parents come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and genders. Many great parents are biologically related to their children. Many great parents are not. In any family law issue, the ultimate and only goal should be the interest of the children.
Sometimes a marriage, or a remarriage, doesn’t work out in the happy ending you had hoped for, and a divorce is on the horizon. If you’re a stepparent to a minor child here in Knoxville or elsewhere in Tennessee, you may have questions about your rights when it comes to visitation or child custody.
What does the law say?
Here’s the actual letter of the law. Under TN Code § 36-6-303:
“In a suit for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance where one (1) party is a stepparent to a minor child born to the other party, such stepparent may be granted reasonable visitation rights to such child during the child’s minority by the court of competent jurisdiction upon a finding that such visitation rights would be in the best interests of the minor child and that such stepparent is actually providing or contributing towards the support of such child.”
What this means is that you do have the right to see your stepchild if you and your spouse divorce – as long as the court rules your requests are reasonable and visitation is in the best interest of the child. However, the courts are bound by financial support. If you can’t help financially with your stepchild or stepchildren, the courts likely won’t grant you visitation unless your ex-spouse explicitly agrees to it.
Aren’t support and custody separate issues?
Yes – as in, you cannot withhold child support if your ex-spouse doesn’t follow the Parenting Plan when it comes to custody (or vice versa). However, if you are not contributing to the wellbeing of the child, then the courts are unlikely to grant you some kind of custody or visitation, because again – you are not biologically related to the child. If you have adopted your stepchild, however, it is a different story.
What if my former spouse is abusive?
If your ex-spouse is abusive to his or her children, you may be able to petition for full custody of your stepchildren. However, this is typically only an option if the child’s other parent is no longer in the child’s life. Additionally, petitioning for custody could be difficult if the child’s grandparents also petition for custody.
Adopting your stepchildren
A proactive way to avoid problems down the road is to adopt your stepchildren. This may not be an option if the children’s other parent is actively involved, or if he or she won’t terminate parental rights. However, if it is an option and you view your stepchildren as your own, adoption is something to consider. It strengthens the family bonds, and grants you legal rights to your children in the event of a divorce or tragedy.
There are many ways to build a family. The Knoxville family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter can help you with yours. We’re here to listen to and answer your questions about divorce, adoption, child custody and support, and more. Call us at 865.272.4454 or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation with a Knoxville lawyer today.