Step-Parents and Divorce

Step-parents occupy a special and unique place for children. They are not the parent, but they are an essential part of day-to-day life. In the optimal situation, the step-parent creates a strong bond with the children, and loves the children as his or her own. Providing a larger support network and more people to help children grow and learn. Unfortunately, second marriages sometimes fail, just as first marriages or relationships also sometimes do. When a step-parent has forged a strong bond with the children from the marriage, it can be difficult for the whole family, as the step-parent will no longer have the daily contact with the children. If a biological parent is not amenable to allowing a step-parent continuing access to the children, the step-parent may want to explore what options he or she may have through the courts.

There is no statute in New Jersey that specifically provides that a step-parent may or may not file for visitation of his soon-to-be former stepchildren in a divorce. The central New Jersey case on this issue is Kipstein v. Zalewski. The court in that case found that there is neither an automatic bar nor an automatic right for a step-parent to obtain visitation of step-children. In that case, the step-father had only been married to the mother for a year. Following the separation, the step-father was able to maintain contact with the step-daughter until the mother got a new boyfriend. The mediator was concerned that the child may become confused, as keeping the step-father in her life would mean that the child now had three father-figures, namely her biological father, the step-father, and the mother’s new boyfriend.

The court noted that the stepparent relationship, in and of itself does not confer rights to the step-parent. The court found that the extent of the relationship was an essential inquiry, and the burden of proof to demonstrate the depth of the relationship between the step-parent and step-child was on the step-parent seeking court-ordered visitation. The court found that in some circumstances, step-parent visits may be appropriate where a step-parent had acted in loco parentis to the step-child. In this case, however, the step-father failed to meet his burden and his request was ultimately denied.

in helping our clients deal with a former spouse or partner who refuses to cooperate or abide by a custody order. Contact us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment to talk about your case and your child.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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