Living in a blended family is both a challenge and a blessing. When marrying a person who already has children, you have to make an effort to build a relationship with the kids and understand what role you are going to play in their upbringing. Moreover, you need to ensure that everyone feels loved, heard, and appreciated and accept that it takes time to get used to the new family situation. After putting so much effort into connecting with your spouse’s children, it is no wonder that you grow close to them and consider them to be your own. Therefore, the trauma of divorcing your spouse is likely aggravated by the fact that the relationships with your stepchildren are now at risk.
What are Your Rights as a Stepparent?
The first thing you should do is determine whether you have legally adopted your stepkids.
If you did, you have a right to custody in the eyes of the law, and may fight for it in court in case your divorce is not amicable. As an adoption process has officially made you their parent, you have as much of a say in their life as your soon-to-be ex.
If you didn’t, the situation can get complicated. As your spouse and, most likely, their ex are the only ones allowed to make decisions concerning the kids, a lot will depend on their willingness to let you maintain the relationships with your stepchildren. Fortunately, in certain states, you might still pursue legal action to get stepparent visitations.
Note that all of this is only applicable to your case if your stepchildren are minors. If they are legal adults, it is up to them to decide what kind of relationship to maintain with you whether you have adopted them or not.
What Can You Do if You Have No Legal Rights?
Nowadays, 23 states authorize stepparent visitation or consider stepparents “interested third parties,” who may be granted certain rights when it comes to their stepkids. While in other states such visitation rights are not outlined in laws, you may still be able to petition for visitation there. Note that having an opportunity to make such a request with the court doesn’t necessarily mean it be granted. It is necessary to build a strong line of reasoning proving that you played a crucial role in the lives of your stepchildren and it will be in their best interests for you to keep being involved.
Therefore, if you have to pursue legal action to keep seeing your stepkids, it is best to hire a professional lawyer with experience in stepparent rights cases. They can help you understand what the best course of action would be in your situation, and what you can do to ensure that the outcome is in your favor. Still, keep in mind that birth parents have a lot of say in whether you will be able to maintain relationships with their minor children, as there is a limited number of arguments you can use to overrule their decision in court. Due to this, it is easier to try discussing visitations and your future role in the lives of the stepchildren with your spouse and come to a certain agreement if possible.
Negotiate with Children’s Parents
The first person to approach with the discussion regarding your stepchildren is obviously your ex. If you are ending things amicably, and are getting an online divorce or an uncontested one with a lawyer, it is likely that you will be able to settle on a decision that would benefit the kids. After all, you have become either a friendly or a parental figure for your stepchildren, or maybe even both, and your bond with them is something that shouldn’t be affected by your divorce. As long as your spouse understands it and keeps the interest and wishes of their kids in mind when making decisions, your connection with your stepchildren should be intact.
However, if your divorce is bitter, and your spouse is unwilling to negotiate or recognize your role in the lives of your stepchildren, the situation becomes complex. There are a few ways you may choose to approach it:
- Build a strategy to prove your point.
Note that it doesn’t imply fighting with your ex or basing your arguments on how wrong they are to prevent you from seeing the kids. Instead, you should try to initiate conversations with the goal to compromise and focus your discussion on the wellbeing of your stepchildren. If your spouse is prohibiting contact out of spite, and refuses counseling or mediation, there is little you can do. However, if they have genuine concerns about your communication with the kids that you can address, or are likely to cave in when realizing that their children want you in their lives, there is a chance you will reach consensus.
- Communicate with the other parent.
If the other parent is present and knows you well enough, you may try reaching out to them to discuss your situation. They may be able to convince your spouse to give you visitation rights or help you acquire them through court. Additionally, they might be willing to share some of their parenting time with you on specific conditions.
Unfortunately, if all of these attempts fail, your only option would be going through a court process to try getting stepparent visitations approved.
Tips on How to Keep in Touch with Your Stepchildren When You Are Allowed to
No matter how you got the visitation rights, you now have a chance to maintain the relationships with your stepchildren and it is an amazing! An important thing to understand at this point is that you are starting a new life after a divorce and need to help your stepkids transition into the new reality. There will be a lot of changes as you and your ex are unlikely to be living together post-breakup, which means that you won’t be seeing your stepchildren as often as you did before. Nonetheless, you can not only maintain but build stronger relationships with them if you do the following:
Keep in touch no matter the situation
You or your stepchildren might move or either of you might just have a busier schedule than before. It is as natural as all changes are. What is crucial in this case is making sure you stay in contact. Take time to text them, initiate video calls, and arrange meetings, and encourage them to do the same. Your stepchildren need to understand that they are still loved, valued, and wanted, despite the new family situation.
Follow the rules
If court has granted you visitation rights, it means that there is an order that you should follow. Any violations might lead to the revocation of such rights and this is the last thing you want happening. In case your visitations are just a verbal agreement between you and your ex, following the “rules” you have established and discussing any potential changes with them respectfully would be a must. Ensuring that you are on good (or at least, not bad) terms with your ex will help you stay in lives of your stepchildren as long as possible.
Make the most of your “together” time
No matter how much time you spend with your stepchildren, make sure that it is memorable. Plan and schedule activities that you would all enjoy taking part in and that would bring you closer together. Also, take pictures and videos to remember these fun times by and share them with each other.
Make sure they know that your home is their home too
If you have been living with your stepchildren under one roof for a long time, living separately might take some time getting used to. To help your kids adjust faster and make the process less stressful, make them feel welcome at your new place. Allocate certain space or, if possible, a separate room to them and let them decorate it according to their taste. You may also buy or offer them to leave some toys, books, school supplies, and other essentials there to make them feel at home.
Take interest in your stepchildren
Ask your stepchildren about their hobbies and show your support by trying them out together or rooting for kids when they do. Remember dates, people, and activities important for them to show them that you care. Also, encourage your stepkids to share their emotions with you and create a safe space for them to do it. If you know who your stepchildren’s friends are, inquire about how they are doing and if they have any plans together for later.
Never bad-mouth your ex
When communicating with your stepchildren, focus on them, yourself, and your relationship. There is no need to make talking about your ex a taboo, and your kids may be free to share information about them with you. However, your and your ex’s relationship are none of your children’s business, and it would not be ethical or fair to share your grievances regarding the divorce with them. After all, your ex plays a parental role in their life and may be great at it – the role they played with you was quite different and it’s irrelevant to your children.
If possible, live close to them
Buy or rent an apartment or house near your ex’s home if you can to stay closer to your stepchildren. It will make it easier for you to maintain contact with them and spend quality time together. Besides, it will be easier for kids to find you and ask for help or advice need be.
Never let the new people in your life come between you and the kids
Sooner or later, you may start dating again or get married. Knowing this can be stressful to children, especially if your partner has kids or you are planning to have one. Your stepchildren may feel that they are being replaced or that you might leave them eventually to take care of your new family. Therefore, sit your kids down and have a talk. Make sure they know that nobody can change the way you feel about them and they will always be welcome at your home. You should also ensure that your partner understands and accepts the fact that your stepchildren are an important part of your life and it will remain so regardless of how your relationship progresses.