Step-Parents' Child Custody Rights in North Carolina

As the number of blended families in North Carolina increases, so does the potential for step-parents to seek custody of children in a divorce.

Can a stepparent fight for custody of a child born to their estranged spouse? Yes. But to ensure their ability to receive custody of a stepchild in North Carolina, a stepparent should formally adopt the child. If you have not adopted your stepchild, it can be a challenge to gain custody or visitation rights.

The parents of a child who has not yet turned 18 in North Carolina have the responsibility to maintain custody and provide care for the child as well as the right to make decisions on behalf of the child. But if a court in North Carolina decides it is in the child’s best interests, it may take away these rights and responsibilities. A parent may also voluntarily relinquish parental rights so someone else may adopt the child.

At the law office of Charles R. Ullman & Associates, our experienced family law attorneys can help you through the complicated process of petitioning the court to terminate the parental rights of an estranged spouse and adopting an underage child when it is in the child’s best interest. If you have already started divorce proceedings and have not adopted your step-child(ren), we can help you make the case that awarding you custody promotes the best interests and welfare of the child.

Our experienced parental rights lawyers can provide high-quality representation and protect the rights and interests of you and the minor-age child you have parented in Raleigh, NC, Cary, or elsewhere in Wake County. Contact our family law team at (855) 928-0531 or online to discuss your needs today.

Legal Foundations of Step-Parent Involvement in Child Custody

Under North Carolina law, barring certain criminal convictions, “Any parent, relative, or other person, agency, organization or institution claiming the right to custody of a minor child may institute an action for the custody of such child” (N.C.G.S. § 50 13.1(a)). When a family law court judge conducts a hearing to consider awarding child custody, the judge is required to base the decision on whose custody will promote the interests and welfare of the child (N.C.G.S. § 50‑13.2(a)).

When considering a petition for child custody, a judge will consider who can provide a stable home for the child and best take care of the child’s needs. In most cases, child custody will be awarded to a biological parent or blood relative instead of a step-parent or another unrelated individual.

To consult with an experienced step-parents custody rights lawyer serving Raleigh, NC, call (919) 829-1006

Pathways for Step-Parent Engagement in Custody Cases

Do step-parents have custody rights? A step-parent might seek custody of a step-child in a divorce or after the death of a spouse who is the legal parent of the child. A way to do this is to adopt the child, which requires any living parent of the child to relinquish their parental rights or a court to agree to terminate parental rights.

When an individual seeks to adopt a step-child, any parent who has parental rights may consent to the adoption by voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights. To do so, they must attend a hearing and state their intentions to the judge. If the child is 12 years old or older, it is likely that he or she will be asked to consent to the adoption, as well.

If a parent will not provide consent for an adoption, it is possible to ask the court to terminate parental rights. The court would hear such a petition from the child’s presumptive adoptive parent(s) or an adult who has lived with the child for two consecutive years or more.

To terminate parental rights, the court must find that the parent is unfit and that it is in the best interest of the child that the parent in question no longer has rights and responsibilities for the child.

Among the factors in North Carolina law that allow a court to terminate parental rights are:

  • A court has awarded custody of the child to one parent in favor of the other, or sole custody is part of a separation agreement.
  • Unjustified failure of a noncustodial parent to pay child support for one year or more.
  • The parent’s inability to properly care for the child.
  • Parental abuse or neglect of the child.
  • Willful abandonment of the child for six months or more.

Legal Challenges for Step-Parents

The step-parent must prove with clear and convincing evidence that one or more statutory grounds for termination of parental rights exist. If the court agrees, the step-parent must present a plan demonstrating that a change in legal parentage is in the child’s best interest. The judge must then decide what is in the child’s best interests based on the evidence presented.

At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we can help you through the complicated process of petitioning the court to terminate the parental rights of an estranged spouse or another adult with legal standing when it is in the child’s best interests. We can help compile evidence of why termination of parental rights benefits the child, prepare the legal petition, and represent you in the courtroom.

Fight step-parents’ child custody rights near you by calling (919) 829-1006

Adopting a Step-Child in NC

Step-parents in North Carolina do not have the rights of a natural parent and no legal protection for their relationship with a step-child unless they adopt the child. Upon adoption, the step-parent becomes the legal parent of the child and has the right to make decisions about the child’s welfare.

North Carolina allows any adult (age 18 or older) to adopt a child after passing an adoption home study completed under the direction of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the county social services office. Single adults may adopt children in North Carolina. Couples may adopt jointly.

Adoption requires six steps:

  • Terminating existing parental rights.
  • Completing in-depth assessment by a social worker.
  • Filing with the court the adoption petition, placement agreement, and post-adoption contact agreement.
  • Obtaining court approval for placement of the child.
  • Completing two post-placement visits in the home by a social worker.
  • The issuance of the final adoption decree.

Charles R. Ullman & Associates has extensive experience helping North Carolina families with family law matters. A family law attorney can serve as your adoption attorney and help you understand what is required at each step in the adoption process. We can ensure that the documents you must compile and submit are complete and provide the information the court needs to approve your petition for adoption.

Contact Our Parental Rights and Adoption Attorneys Today

The rights and protections built into North Carolina’s child custody laws favor the child’s biological parents, regardless of marital status. However, the adoption of a stepchild confers rights on the adoptive parent. As a step-parent, you risk losing custody of a child if you fail to take the correct legal steps. Seek the legal support of Charles R. Ullman & Associates. A family law attorney can guide you through the legal process of seeking custody of a child and handle all the necessary filings and hearings.

Our legal team is dedicated to seeking child custody arrangements that best meet the needs of our clients and their children. Contact our firm for a consultation to discuss how we can guide you through divorce and child custody issues.

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Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.