You don’t always have to say goodbye to stepchildren in a divorce.
The true cost of divorce is far more than legal fees and letting go of your relationship with your ex-spouse. When stepchildren are involved, divorce can feel especially fraught and heartbreaking. Do you have legal rights to see your stepchildren after your divorce? How do you maintain your relationship with them? What if your ex-spouse keeps you from seeing your stepchildren?
If these questions have been plaguing you, don’t worry. Keep reading to learn about your rights as a step-parent, and the steps you can take to stay connected with your stepchildren after divorce.
Step Parent Rights After Divorce: Do You Have Any?
Step parent rights are, unfortunately, virtually non-existent after divorce. Of course, it is perfectly legal to talk to your stepchildren after your divorce, but only if your ex allows this. If your stepchildren’s biological parent does not want to cooperate with you in maintaining a relationship with your stepchildren, there is little you can legally do.
While you can take your ex-spouse to court in an attempt to gain visitation or custody rights, this is a complicated process. If you are thinking of pursuing legal action, consult with a qualified lawyer before taking action (ONDA). They can tell you if you have a leg to stand on in court, and if the legal battle is worth your time and money.
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. While your ex-spouse will have no legal obligation to let you see your stepchildren, that doesn’t mean you have to automatically assume a divorce means you’ll never see them again. There are many benefits to maintaining your relationship with your stepchildren after your divorce, and many ways you can go about doing so.
What Happens to Kids After Divorce?
Divorce can take a heavy toll on children– whether between two biological parents or a step parent. It is not uncommon for children of divorce to be at an increased risk for mental health and behavioral problems.
Of course, every child’s reaction to divorce will be different. There are many instances in which step children never feel particularly close with their step parent(s), and may not need or benefit from a continued relationship after the divorce. If, however, you have spent years bonding with your stepchildren, you likely aren’t the only one who will be struggling to cope after the divorce.
Hopefully, your ex will understand that you are an important part of their child’s life, and that it is in their best interest to keep seeing you. Simply knowing and acknowledging this can help the two of you work through or put aside any animosity, for your stepchildren’s sake.
How to Maintain Your Relationship with Stepchildren After Divorce
Just because it isn’t the status quo doesn’t mean maintaining a relationship with your stepchildren after divorce is impossible. Whether you’re in the process or already divorced, here are some of the best steps you can take to keep that bond strong:
Try to Stay on Civil Terms with Your Ex
We know, it can feel impossible to be civil and hold back the negative emotions associated with your ex-spouse. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your stepchildren, though, you will have to grin and bear it.
According to the Council on Contemporary Families’ recent study , a stepchild’s relationship with an ex-step parent hinges greatly on how willing their biological parent is to help. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, or that their parent has to go out of their way to continue your relationship. It just requires their parent(s) to show that they are open to the idea of their kids having a relationship with you, so they know it is alright.
While you do not necessarily have to get along with your ex, making an effort to stay civil will go a long way. Not only will your ex-spouse be more inclined to let you continue to talk and/or see your stepchildren, but it will ensure they know your relationship with them has nothing to do with how you feel about their parent.
Create a Plan with Your Ex-Spouse Before the Divorce
If you can, be open and honest about wanting to continue your relationship with your stepchildren up front, before the divorce. Have conversations with your ex to get a clear understanding of their thoughts and what they are willing to allow when it comes to you seeing your stepchildren after the divorce.
If you two are able to have an open and honest conversation, you can make a plan for how you will continue your relationship with your stepchildren. Perhaps you will figure out a schedule for when the kids can visit you, or hop on a virtual video chat or phone call. Maybe this planning will include your stepchildren, if they are old enough, and take account of what they want.
Whatever you decide, having a plan can ease everyone’s fears and ensure your stepchildren will have a better chance at seeing or talking to you regularly.
Get in Touch With Your Stepchild’s Biological Family
When you can’t get through to an angry ex who refuses to let you see your stepchildren, it doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck. If you’re been in the family for many years, you likely have relationships with your stepchildren’s family, some of whom may be more willing to work with you than others.
Perhaps your stepchildren have another biological parent who knows how much you mean to them and would be willing to let you visit. Or, if your stepchildren have grandparents, siblings, or other relatives you are on talking terms with, they could help smooth things over and help your ex see that their children would benefit from seeing you. Exhaust all your options, because you never know who may be able to help.
Respect Your Stepchildren’s Emotions and Boundaries
In the end, this is about what’s best for the children. No matter what you want and envision for the future, it’s important to check in with them and ensure it is also what they want. No matter how much you want to maintain your relationship with them, it may be that they do not feel the same.
If this is the case, respect their boundaries. Divorce is an emotional, confusing time for kids, and it is normal for kids to be angry and disappointed with you, as their step-parent, if they feel like you are leaving and abandoning them. Pushing yourself on them when they are not ready will only drive them from you, and show that you don’t care about their feelings.
Don’t Give Up
If there is one thing you should never do when it comes to your relationship with your stepchildren, it’s to stop trying entirely. As long as you aren’t crossing any personal or legal boundaries and going out of your way to force a relationship, it’s important to show that you are trying.
Even if your stepchildren can’t see or talk to you now, they will one day be old enough to make that decision on their own. Do whatever you can, now and in the future, to let them know you care and are thinking about them. It may mean a recovered relationship in the future.
Life after divorce is never easy for those involved, especially for children. If you have a close bond with your stepchildren, making the effort to connect with them will make a positive impact on both of your lives. Here at Divorcist, we are passionate about helping newly-single people navigate this difficult time, and we are here to help. Check out our blog for more helpful resources, and sign up for our email list below so you never miss a post.