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Do Stepparents Have Any Rights in a Custody Battle?


A child custody issue in Colorado typically involves the child’s two biological or legal parents. A judge will assign parenting time (physical custody) and legal custody to either or both parents based on the best interests of the child. If a blended family has a stepparent, however, this could affect a custody decision. There are certain scenarios where a stepparent parent has the right to claim custody of a child.

What Is the Stepparent’s Relationship With the Child?

Whether a stepparent will have custodial rights during a divorce case in Colorado depends on his or her relationship with the child. If the stepparent has legally adopted the stepchild, the stepparent is viewed as the child’s legal parent. This will give the stepparent all of the same rights as the child’s biological parent. In this scenario, both parents would have equal rights to child custody and visitation. The stepparent could share custody of the stepchild with the biological parent after the divorce or separation.

If the stepparent did not legally adopt the child, he or she will have fewer custodial rights. The stepparent will not be viewed as the legal parent of the stepchild. Under normal circumstances, a judge would not award custody to the stepparent over the child’s biological or legal parent in this situation. However, child custody decisions are always made according to the best interests of the child in Colorado.

A Stepparent’s Rights in Colorado

If the courts decide on a joint custody arrangement between a stepparent who has not adopted the child and a biological or legal parent, the stepparent will have fewer rights. While the stepparent can receive legal rights, as a general rule, the stepparent will not have the right to determine medical care for the stepchild. This can be changed, however, if the child’s biological parents sign a consent form. Stepparents do have the right to access school records and attend school functions. Finally, stepparents may be asked to participate in a child’s disciplinary arrangements. 

How to Adopt Your Stepchild

The best way to ensure that you have legal rights as a stepparent in a custody battle in Colorado is to legally adopt your stepchild. This will guarantee that you are viewed as the child’s legal parent and will be given the same rights as his or her biological parent in a divorce case. There are two ways to legally adopt a stepchild in Colorado:

  • If the child’s other biological parent is no longer alive, the living parent can give his or her written consent for the stepparent to adopt the child.
  • If the child’s other biological parent is still alive, the stepparent may only adopt the child if the other parent voluntarily surrenders his or her parental rights in writing.

If adoption is not an option, the other way for a stepparent to enhance his or her rights during a custody battle is to get a signed consent form from one or both biological parents. If the parent(s) of the child signs a form giving the stepparent legal rights, he or she may be given custody or visitation after a divorce.

Petitioning the Courts for Visitation Rights as a Stepparent

If you are a stepparent that has not legally adopted your stepchild, you can still petition the courts for custody or visitation rights during a divorce case in Colorado. Visitation is more likely than custody if you are not the child’s legal parent. Visitation gives you the right to visit with the stepchild after a divorce or legal separation. Grandparents can also seek visitation rights in Colorado. 

The courts may grant a stepparent’s visitation request if they believe it is in the child’s best interest to remain in contact with the stepparent after the split. The desires of the child may also be taken into account if the child is at least 14 years of age. In a case where the child’s biological or legal parent passes away, a stepparent can also petition for custody of the child. For more information about a stepparent’s rights in a custody battle in Colorado, contact a child custody attorney.

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