Occasionally, my law firm is contacted by a step-parent inquiring about his or her child custody rights after the break-up of a relationship. The child custody rights of a step-parent are quite similar to those of a biological parent in many ways. A step-parent in Pennsylvania has the right to sue a custodial parent for partial custody or visitation of the natural parent's child. This typically occurs when the parties married and lived together for a substantial period of time with the child/children and the step-parent assumed the role of supporting and caring for the natural parent's child. If the natural parent refuses to grant the step-parent access to the child, the step-parent should consider contacting an attorney and filing a complaint for partial custody or visitation.
The one major difference between a step-parent's rights and a natural parent's rights is that a court will not typically award the step-parent primary physical and legal custody except for in exceptional circumstances. The Court tends to prefer biological parents for obvious reasons. However, if, for example, the step-parent, natural parent and child live together as a family unit and the natural parent passes away, the Court may award the step-parent primary physical custody even if the other natural parent is still alive.
As you can see, a step parent has a plethora of custody rights in Pennsylvania, depending on the situation. If you are a step-parent and have any questions regarding your custody rights to a step-child, contact my family law practice, Gusty A. E. Sunseri & Associates, to discuss your options.