Though they are not biological parents, stepparents in Illinois have rights in divorce proceedings or after the death of a biological parent that help them protect their relationship with their stepchildren. Under current Illinois law, stepparents are recognized as important parental figures in the life of a child, and in specific circumstances may even have the right to file for custody.
Stepparents May Have the Right to File for Custody
There are times in Illinois when stepparents have the right to file for custody of their stepchildren. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, stepparents can do this if their child is 12 years old or older, they were married to the custodial parent for a minimum of five years during which time the child lived in the home, and the custodial parent cannot perform his or her duties as a parent. If stepparents can prove that they provided for the child’s care prior to the custody hearings, the child wants to stay with the stepparent, and the courts find this to be in the child’s best interest, custody may be awarded.
This particular right is not always connected to divorce. If a biological, custodial parent is killed, the stepparent may file for custody to keep the stepchildren in the home. Since maintaining the home life as it exists is often determined to be in the child’s best interests, some stepparents may be awarded custody even when a noncustodial parent is alive and willing to care for the child.
Stepparents Have the Right to Request Visitation
Visitation, rather than custody, is easier for stepparents to attain because it has fewer stipulations. If the child wants to continue the relationship, and it appears to be in the child’s best interest, the court will often grant visitation rights to a stepparent. However, the court will carefully consider what impact this action would have on the child’s relationship with other key family members.
Stepparents play a vital role in a child’s development, especially if they act as a parent for many years. Divorce or the death of a biological parent causes intense emotional strain on a child and taking away that relationship is often damaging.