Stepparents often develop strong bonds with their stepchildren. It is not unusual for a stepparent to take on a parental role and, in some cases, even become the primary caregiver for the child. Although stepparents have not traditionally had strong rights, recent developments in Texas child custody law could open the door to more cases of stepparents seeking custody or visitation of their stepchildren.
In the past, Texas stepparents’ rights primarily derived from Texas Family Code § 102.003(11), which confers standing to file suit for custody or visitation on a person with whom the child and the child’s parent, guardian, or managing conservator lived for at least six months, but only if the child’s parent, guardian, or managing conservator is deceased when the petition is filed. Additionally, the six-month period in which the child resided with the person must have ended within 90 days before the petition was filed. Unfortunately, this section only applies if the parent to whom the stepparent was married dies. It does not give the stepparent any rights while the parent is still living.
However, the Texas Supreme Court recently rendered a decision that could give a stepparent the right to seek custody or visitation even if the parent is living. In the Interest of H.S., involving grandparents who had acted as caregivers for their grandchild, revolved around Texas Family Code § 102.003(9), a different section of the statute referenced above. This section is not dependent upon the biological parent being deceased. Instead, it confers standing in a lawsuit involving custody or visitation on someone “who has had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months.” As with the other section, the six-month period must end within 90 days before the filing.