In the world of family law, the role of a stepparent often arises in custody battles. Stepparents can play a crucial role in the life of a child, but without proper legal standing, their rights can be severely compromised. The case we’re about to discuss illustrates the need for stepparents to establish legal custody in order to safeguard their rights and the wellbeing of the child.
The Story: A Custody Dispute Unfolds
In 2016, a father voluntarily relinquished his parental rights, leaving the child under the care of the mother and the stepfather. The stepfather never officially adopted the child, and when the mother and stepfather divorced in 2018, the divorce decree only addressed their biological child. The child, however, continued to live with the stepfather and even had his own room in his house, indicating the level of care and commitment provided by the stepfather.
The Dispute: A Three-Way Custody Battle
Unfortunately, in 2021, the mother passed away, leading to a custody dispute among the biological father, stepfather, and the maternal grandparents. The biological father filed a motion seeking temporary sole managing conservatorship, while the stepfather received an emergency ex parte temporary restraining order to keep the child from being removed from his school and to prevent disturbance of his possession of the child.
The maternal grandparents, however, wanted the stepfather dismissed from the case for lack of standing. They filed a petition to intervene, and the trial court granted their plea, naming the grandparents joint managing conservators.
The Appeal: Fighting for Legal Standing
Not ready to give up, the stepfather appealed. He asserted standing under Tex. Fam. Code 102.003(a)(9), which confers standing on a person “who has had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months ending not more than 90 days” before the petition was filed.
The appeals court reversed the trial court’s order, ruling that the stepfather had indeed established standing by showing that he had provided for the child’s daily needs, shared a principal residence with the child, and exercised parental guidance, governance, and direction.
Moreover, the appeals court found that the stepfather was denied due process, as he was prohibited from participating in the proceedings after the trial court granted the grandparents’ plea to the jurisdiction.
The Lesson: The Importance of Legalizing Stepparent Custody
This case underscores the importance of legalizing stepparent custody. Relying on informal custody arrangements, as was done in this case, does not adequately protect the stepparent or the child when unexpected situations arise. In some instances, stepparent adoption may be the best option to secure the child’s welfare and the step-parent’s rights.
Conclusion: Navigating Family Law Matters
Navigating family law matters, especially those involving custody disputes, can be complex and emotionally charged. At The Blacknall Firm, our team is experienced in handling all aspects of family law. If you find yourself in a similar situation, or if you have any questions about your rights as a stepparent, we’re here to help.