Stepdads are at risk. I was engaged to a single mother and she recently left me. She has two great kids and they went with her of course. We’ve been together awhile and I really consider them my kids. I’ve tried to get in touch so I can spend some time with the kids but she won’t respond to me. I feel shut out. It really sucks because I was 100% in and doing all I could to be a dad to the kids –but it doesn’t matter to her because she decided that her and me weren’t a fit, so I don’t get to see the kids now. Bio dads have rights but us Stepdads don’t. It doesn’t make sense how a woman can expect you to bond with her kids and become “dad” then when she changes her mind you’re out in the cold without the kids. I feel like a fool. Do I have any legal options here? -DadBill67
You sound like a good and honorable man. These are the kinds of letters I hate to see; mainly because the situation is all too common. A great deal of stepfathers don’t even bother to make the effort to bond with their step kids. I feel terrible for any guy who has put his heart into the game, only to find it rejected. A man who’s willing to be a father figure to a child is a special kind of guy. The unfortunate truth is; you have no legal recourse.
A scary fact is that even if you had been married to the mom you still wouldn’t have a legal right to visitation. At last count the, the number of successful visitation cases for Stepdads in the US is less than a dozen. There are numerous groups advocating for; biological dad’s rights, biological mom’s rights, and even grandparent’s rights; but no movement I’m aware of, which solely advocates for Stepdads. In the US legal system Stepdads are regarded as accessories more than parents. The technical term in US law is ‘legal stranger.’ That is how you are seen and how you will be treated under the law, as it applies to step children.
Non-bio parent custody or visitation is so rare that the first actual case that succeeded in gaining a non-bio-dad visitation rights didn’t happen until 1998. Before that, there is no record of a Stepdad having any legal grounds for demanding visitation in the US. In that case (Maby H v. Joseph H) the Stepdad got together with the mom when she was already pregnant and even put his name on the birth certificate as the father. He always presented the child as his own and he and his wife had another child as well. There were no allegations of neglect or abuse. It was because of all these factors that this precedent-setting case was won by the father. Sadly, all he got was visitation- not even partial custody.
This case is an eye-opener because it demonstrates a few things, which the American legal system holds strongly to; the idea that dads are less important than moms, in a child’s life, and Stepdad’s aren’t “real” dads to their kids at all. I often speak about how Stepdads are a special breed. This inequality in the law is just one more thing that makes Stepdads special in my eyes. Even without legal footing, men who love single moms and their kids leave themselves completely vulnerable. When a bio dad and a bio mom divorce, they will lose their marriage. When a Stepdad and a bio mom split up, he can lose everything; the wife and the kids.
Bill, as unfair as it is, there is nothing to be done. You are an honorable man and you tried to do a good thing. It’s obvious from your letter that you care a great deal about these kids, and the truth is –if she’s going to resist you seeing them- it’s better that you walk away. I’m sure you don’t want to put the kids through watching you fighting a losing battle with their mom over them. I know it’s got to be tough but you’ve got to take this one for the kids. They may never know the sacrifice you’ve made for them but you will, and that will give you one more reason to respect the man you see in the mirror each morning.