Children are legally connected to their parents in one of two main ways: they are biologically related or they have been legally adopted. In both, rights and responsibilities of the parent are legally established and can only be undone in extreme circumstances. Any person that is not biologically or legally connected to a child does not have any rights over them.
How Stepparent Rights Compare to Parental Rights
Stepparents are one unique scenario considered by the courts when determining rights. Stepparents form bonds with the children in their care, oftentimes acting in the role of a parent along with the child’s biological parent. However, unless the stepparent has adopted a child as their own during the marriage, separating with a child’s biological parent leaves the stepparent with no inherent legal rights.
Luckily, Virginia law considers a stepparent a person of legitimate interest when determining the best interests of the child. In addition to the wishes of the child, the relationship between the stepparent and the child, and the stepparent’s financial means, the court can look at additional factors to grant legal rights.
Factors examined when awarding stepparents custody include:
- The ability of the biological parent to care for the child
- Who has been providing care and physically custody for the child
- Close family and psychological connections that have been established
- The family created with the stepparent’s own biological children
However, the wishes of the biological parent will supersede the legal rights of a stepparent to a child. If a parent wants to prevent a stepparent from having rights, the court will generally respect that wish unless there is an unusual and compelling circumstance that would grant the stepparent rights.