Do Stepparents Have Custody Rights? What You Need to Know

Stepparents often develop close relationships with their stepchildren. While they may not have adopted the child, they may still act as a parent on a day-to-day basis, and the child may see them as a parental figure. That’s why, if a child is suddenly unable to see their stepparent on a daily basis due to a divorce, it can cause the child much distress and emotional anxiety. If you are going through a divorce and you’ve grown close to your soon-to-be-ex’s kids, you may be wondering,  “Do stepparents have custody rights?”

Limited Rights for Stepparents

Unfortunately, a stepparent has limited rights when it comes to their stepchildren. Were you to adopt the child, you would be treated the same way as a biological parent. But an adoption is only possible under certain circumstances, such as a natural parent being willing to give up their parenting rights, which is not always the case.

If you are not the natural parent, and you’re unable to adopt the child, you have few rights under the law. You cannot make decisions regarding the child’s school, doctor, activities, or other aspects of their life. Obviously, when you are married to the child’s biological parent, you can be involved in certain decisions, but once you divorce, the biological parent remains in charge. In your divorce, you are not automatically granted custody or visitation like the natural parent would.

Third Party Rights

Arizona does have statutes pertaining to the rights of third parties, such as grandparents or stepparents. You’re allowed to file a motion with the court requesting visitation with the child. Generally, a stepparent would file “in loco parentis,” which essentially means they have a parent-like relationship with the child. To file in loco parentis, the stepparent must be divorced or legally separated from the biological parent, or they must be in the process of one or the other.

You may also pursue custody of a child as in loco parentis. For both custody and visitation requests, the court will look at a variety of factors, including:

  • Your relationship with the child.
  • Why you’ve requested visitation or custody.
  • How much time you’re requesting.
  • How visitation with you could affect the child’s daily routine.
  • What objections others may have to your request.

In order to prevail on a third party custody request, generally there has to be a fitness issue with the natural parent.  For visitation, the Court has to find that the arrangement is in the best interests of the child which can happen even if the biological parent is perfectly fit.

Talk to A Divorce Attorney

The attorneys at Udall Shumway, PLC understand that being a stepparent doesn’t mean you don’t love your stepchild as if they were your own flesh and blood. Let us help you with your divorce proceedings and visitation requests. We can answer your questions and help you file documents.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Do Stepparents Have Custody Rights, or any other family law issue, please feel free to contact Sheri D. Shepard at 480.461.5300, log on to, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.