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Do stepparents have legal rights?

On Behalf of | Dec 30, 2019 | Blog

Research on the health and well-being of children suggests that the more caring, supportive adults involved in a child’s life, the better. When children have multiple adult role models who take an interest in their life, it leads to higher self-esteem, reduced risk of dropping out of school and even fewer symptoms of mental health disorders. From that perspective, stepparents can have a huge positive influence on the child. With 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every day, the rights and responsibilities of stepparents are more important than ever. 

However, it is also no secret that stepparents and biological parents sometimes have difficulty getting along and agreeing on parenting styles. In some cases, a parent may even prevent the stepparent from seeing the child. In Tennessee, that may be the final say on the relationship between the stepparent and the child. 

Stepparent visitation rights 

A new Tennessee law changes how a stepparent can request visitation rights. As of July 2019, stepparents can only appeal to family court for visitation rights if: 

  • The biological parent that the stepparent married is either deceased or missing 
  • The stepparent and the biological parent are in the process of divorce  
  • The stepparent and the child have a strong relationship already and the child would suffer without that contact 

Even if the stepparent qualifies for one of those situations, the court will still determine whether it is in the best interest of the child to have sustained contact with the stepparent. 

Stepparent and parent relationships 

For many reasons, it is often best for the child if the stepparents and biological parents find a way to work together. Some tips for doing that are: 

  • Be clear about the stepparent’s role. For everyone’s peace of mind, stepparent relationships work best with the understanding that the stepparent can be a valuable additional mentor and caretaker without taking the place of mom or dad.  
  • Be consistent. Keep the same rules with the biological parents and the stepparents across all children in a blended family.  

After some transition time, hopefully, the unique challenges of a blended family can also lead to the treasured rewards of this relationship.