As a stepparent, you don’t have a biological connection to the children of your spouse. However, that doesn’t mean that you haven’t developed a meaningful, important bond with them. That bond may persist even in situations where your relationship with your spouse begins to deteriorate.
If you find yourself facing a potential divorce as a stepparent, it is normal to wonder what rights and obligations you may have stemming from your relationship with the stepchildren. Under Ohio law, in most cases, both the rights and obligations of stepparents are minimal. Understanding how the state views your relationship with the children can help you make decisions regarding your divorce strategy and custody issues.
If you never adopted them, your stepchildren technically aren’t your kids
They may live in your home, and you may have fed and clothed them for a decade or longer, but the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize you as a legal parent just because you married the parent of a minor child. Typically, to have the Ohio family courts recognize your parental role, you need to formally adopt your stepchildren.
That process necessitates either the state terminating the parental rights of the biological parent or that parent waiving those rights. You can also typically easily complete a stepparent adoption if the biological parent has died.
If you never pursued an adoption because of the expense or complications involved, that will, unfortunately, mean that the courts may not recognize your right to visitation or shared custody with the children. Your ongoing relationship with them may be dependent on the goodwill of your ex.
If you aren’t getting visitation, you won’t pay child support
If there is any silver lining to the fact that Ohio typically won’t authorize visitation or shared custody for stepparents, it is that the lack of parenting time also means that you will not have any financial obligations to provide support.
Of course, the courts will look at your ex’s financial circumstances when attempting to determine if ordering spousal support or alimony is reasonable, and custody of minor children could result in reduced earning potential and an increased need for alimony. It’s also possible that your spouse could claim you play a parental role, which could mean you may have an option for visitation or custody and an obligation to pay support, but proving that assertion in court isn’t always straightforward.
Creating an agreement that allows visitation and potentially mandates the payment of some support can be a great option for a stepparent who wants to continue to play a role in the lives of their stepchildren and to provide for them. Your ex may be enthusiastic about your desire to help, in which case such an agreement will be easy to make.
Barring a direct agreement or taking extreme measures in court, you may have to accept that your role in the lives of your stepchildren will be much smaller until they reach adulthood and can decide for themselves if they want to spend time with you.