Can You Obtain Legal Guardianship Of Your Former Stepchild?

If you're going through a messy divorce that involves your stepchildren, you may be wondering whether there's anything you can do to maintain your parental bond with children who are no longer legally your own. This may be a particular concern if you feel your ex-spouse no longer has the best interest of his or her children in mind or is behaving in ways that could put children you love in danger. What can you do to obtain legal guardianship of your stepchildren after your divorce is finalized? Read on to learn how many states handle this issue.

Do you have the legal right to obtain guardianship of stepchildren or former stepchildren?

Although state laws governing custody can vary widely, all have one thing in common -- the need to put the best interests of the child first and foremost. As a result, most states have some mechanism for a non-blood relative to seek joint custody or even sole guardianship of a child if this contact is deemed to be beneficial to the child. As long as you can provide enough evidence that your ex-spouse is acting in a way that is putting your former stepchild in danger and that you would provide a safe alternative placement, you should be able to gain the ability to make legal and financial decisions on your former stepchild's behalf and determine your former stepchild's living arrangements.

What should you do to try to obtain guardianship of your former stepchild? 

Your first step should be to determine whether you want to try to seek custody or guardianship of your stepchild. If you simply want to make sure you're still able to see your former stepchild on a regular basis but trust that your ex-spouse is able to keep his or her child safe, you'll simply want to reopen your divorce or child custody case and petition for a change of custody that will permit this visitation.

Guardianship involves the transfer of legal decision making rights that will provide you with the sole legal responsibility of ensuring your former stepchild's health and happiness. While this doesn't confer adoptive rights -- you'll still be this child's legal guardian rather than parent -- you'll be able to exercise much more control over your former stepchild's daily living arrangements and physical and emotional well-being. To petition to become this child's guardian, you'll need to file a separate guardianship petition with your local trial court and be prepared to undergo rigorous questioning about why your former stepchild is in danger with your ex-spouse and what makes you a suitable guardian.