North Carolina Stepparent Custody Rights

When considering custody disputes, we normally think of fights between divorcing parents. Although the vast majority of cases are between parents, it is not unusual for a custody case to involve stepparents because blended families have become increasingly common. 

Cases involving stepparents can be emotional and complex, given the legal requirements. What happens if the stepparent and natural parent divorce? Does the stepparent have a right to ask for visitation with or custody of the stepchildren? The team of empathetic, experienced family attorneys at King Law can answer these questions and any others you may have regarding your custody rights as a stepparent.

Who Is Awarded Custody in North Carolina?

North Carolina awards custody to an individual who will best promote the interests and welfare of a child. When awarding custody, a North Carolina court will primarily be concerned with the best interests of the child rather than what will benefit their parents, stepparents, grandparents, or other family members. Custody will typically be awarded to whoever can provide the child with a stable living environment and the best care for their needs.

Custody Rights of Stepparents in North Carolina

North Carolina law is clear on whether or not stepparents have standing, or the right, to sue for custody and visitation of their stepchildren. Standing in custody disputes is governed by N.C.G.S. §50-13.1(a), which states that “[a]ny parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute an action or proceeding for the custody of such child….”

While “other person” does not mean that literally anyone could sue for custody of a particular child, North Carolina courts have found that the relationship between stepparent and stepchild, though lacking biological association, will suffice to support a finding of standing.

Two-Prong Test to Determine the Rights of a Stepparent

Even where a stepparent has standing to seek custody or visitation rights, the courts apply a two-prong test to determine whether the stepparent should be granted those rights. The two steps are as follows:

First Prong

The first question the court asks is whether the natural parent was acting in a manner inconsistent with their constitutionally protected rights as a parent. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis, and the inconsistent conduct does not have to meet the level of conduct that would support a termination of parental rights.

Second Prong

The second question asks what kind of conduct would be inconsistent with a parent’s constitutionally protected rights. This occurs where the parent intentionally creates a family unit in which the stepparent permanently shares parental responsibilities with the parent.

These situations, and others, may permit a court to find that the natural parent acted inconsistently with their constitutional rights.

If the court finds that the parent acted inconsistently with their constitutional rights, the court will then determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to permit the stepparent to have custody or visitation. This is also determined on a case-by-case basis, and it is heavily dependent on the individual child or children.

Contact the Experienced Child Custody Lawyers at King Law Today

Child custody cases have several complicated elements and are highly emotional. There is also a wide array of potential variables that may impact the case. We strongly recommend seeking advice from an experienced family law attorney before moving forward with any type of custody case.

King Law’s team of attorneys in North and South Carolina are here to help you. They have extensive expertise in the intricacies of both North and South Carolina custody law. You can call us today at (888) 748-KING (5464) or contact us through our website to schedule a consultation.