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What Rights Do Stepparents Have After a Texas Divorce?

Chandler Rice Winslow | March 21, 2022

With more blended families than ever before, many wonder what happens to those relationships in the face of divorce. Stepparents can play just as important of a role as a biological parent, and many stepparents who play an active role in raising their stepchildren look at them as their own children. Unfortunately, however, the Court does not always see it this way legally after divorce. 

Can Stepparents Be Awarded Parental Rights for their Stepchildren After Divorce?  

In order for a stepparent to be awarded custody or visitation of a stepchild, they need to meet the basic standing criteria for filing an original suit affecting the parent-child relationship. These criteria must be met before the stepparent can petition the court for custody or visitation rights. Generally, non-parents must have provided actual care and had possession and control of the child for at least six months ending not more than 90 days before the date the stepparent files their child custody request. While the Texas Family Code does not have specific stepparent standing provisions,  the aforementioned standing provisions for a non-parent can include stepparents.

Even if a stepparent has the standing to file a lawsuit requesting custody with their stepchild, they must still overcome the presumption that a biological parent be appointed managing conservator of the child. Unless the court finds that a biological parent has voluntarily relinquished actual care, control, and possession of the child to stepparent for a period of one year or more, (a portion of which was within 90 days preceding the stepparent filing a lawsuit), or that an appointment of a biological parent would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development, it will be difficult for a stepparent to obtain custody.  A few examples of when the Court may consider granting a stepparent conservatorship over a biological parent under the significant impairment standard are as follows:

  • The biological parent(s) are no longer able to provide care for the child. This could include death, desertion, or any number of other reasons.
  • The court deems the biological parent(s) unfit.
  • It is not in the best interest of the child for the biological parent(s) to have custody.

While this is not unheard of, it’s important to talk to a family law attorney about your options and the likelihood of you achieving your desired outcome. They can give you the best advice based on your individual situation and help manage expectations. 

Are Stepparents Entitled to Visitation Rights in Texas After Divorce?

In Texas, stepparents are not automatically entitled to child custody or visitation rights with their stepchildren after divorce. Texas law views stepparents as interested third parties, who must meet the standing requirements discussed above for non-parents in order to file a lawsuit seeking visitation with their former stepchildren. Stepparents can petition for visitation, but there is no guarantee that the Court will award them visitation with their stepchildren.

There are many factors that the Court may consider when awarding a stepparent visitation with their former stepchildren, including the financial support provided for the stepchild, the stepparent’s involvement in their stepchild’s life, the duration of the relationship between the stepparent and stepchild, and the bond between the stepparent and stepchild. All of these factors relate to the court’s determination of what is going to be in the child’s best interest, which is the Court’s primary concern in these types of cases.

It’s important to remember that the biological parents can contest a stepparent’s request for visitation with their children. It is not impossible to get court-ordered visitation rights over the objections of the child’s parents, but it is often due to unique circumstances. So, while an ex-spouse may be accepting of a stepparent’s request for continued visits, their co-parent has just as much say in whether such visitation should occur or not. 

However, if the biological parents are happy to grant stepparent visitation, the Court will likely grant your petition and create a visitation schedule that works in the child’s best interests.  

How to Formally Request Custody and/or Visitation Rights as a Stepparent

Requesting visitation rights is a straightforward process, which generally includes the following: 

  • Draft a petition: You will need to specifically look into Texas’s requirements for petitioning for non-parent custody and/or visitation. You will want to disclose your visitation schedule, if applicable, in addition to any requirements set forth by the State of Texas. 
  • File the petition: File the petition with your court clerk.
  • Attend a hearing: Unless you reach an agreement with both biological parents,  you will need to set an evidentiary hearing where the judge can  determine whether or not the Court should grant visitation.

Work with a Goranson Bain Ausley Attorney 

Before you attempt to file a petition, we always recommend speaking to an experienced family law attorney about your situation. Not only can they advise you on which steps to take next, but they can help you along the way to improve your chances of achieving your desired outcome. Contact a Goranson Bain Ausley attorney to discuss your options as a stepparent looking to maintain a relationship with your stepchildren in Texas. 

Learn More

Chandler Rice Winslow has been named D Magazine Best Lawyers Under 40 for 2022. She has experience in business and real estate law in addition to representing a wide variety of clients in family law, including working and non-working mothers. Chandler understands how a business operates and works closely with business owners on identifying separate and community property. She is also sought after for drafting pre-and post-nuptial agreements and solving highly contested custody issues.

To learn more about stepparent’s rights after a Texas divorce, please contact Chandler Winslow at 214-373-7676.

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