If you've made the sad decision to divorce your child's step-parent, you may be worried about the legal decisions and processes that await. And if you'll be losing contact with step-children of your own during and after divorce, you may be wondering whether there's anything you can do to legally maintain this connection. Custody decisions between two natural parents can be tough enough and adding step-parents into the mix can complicate matters, but you don't need to write off step-parent visitation just yet. Read on to learn more about step-parent custody rights. 

Do Step-Parents Have the Right to Seek Custody or Visitation?

Every state's divorce and child custody laws are different, but the list of individuals who are entitled to seek custody of (or visitation with) a minor child is fairly limited. Unless a child has a parent who has voluntarily relinquished their legal rights or the child is a ward of the state due to allegations of abuse or neglect, the only individuals entitled to legal custody are the child's natural or adoptive parents or legal guardians.   

Some states have recently enacted "grandparent visitation" laws that allow grandparents to seek visitation privileges over the custodial parent's objection. But no states have similar provisions for former step-parents, and step-parents may have trouble seeking even regular visitation with the children they once parented if the natural parent(s) object. If you have a fraught relationship with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you may worry that you'll no longer be able to see your step-children once the divorce has been finalized.  

What Can You Do to Maintain a Connection With Your Step-Children After Divorce?

Although establishing step-parent custody and visitation aren't usually an option without the consent of your ex-spouse, in some rare circumstances you may be able to argue that losing contact with your step-children would be averse to their best interests. If your step-children are old enough to express their wishes to the judge and testify that they'd like to continue regular contact, the judge may incorporate this into the divorce decree in a way that doesn't vest you with legal custody but allows you to see them or attend their events. 

In other cases, mediation may be able to help. If there are certain parts of your marital estate you're willing to compromise on (like giving up a share of your retirement accounts or letting your soon-to-be ex-spouse buy you out of a house), you may be able to arrange for visitation in return. For more information, contact a law office like Brandelli Divorce Law.