Every day in New Jersey, couples who share children decide to file for divorce and end their marriage. For families where both spouses have a biological or adoptive connection to the children, custody and visitation rights are relatively straightforward. However, for blended families that include stepparents and stepchildren, custody, visitation and child support are often less clear and more complicated.

Although you may not have a biological tie to your stepchildren, you likely have an emotional bond with them regardless of the state of your relationship with their biological parent. Exploring your rights as a stepparent in New Jersey can help you determine what approach would work best in your pending divorce.

New Jersey has liberal custody and visitation laws

In most states, a stepparent needs to have completed a stepparent adoption if they want visitation rights or shared custody after a divorce. That usually means that most stepparents don’t have any right to request visitation, but it also means that they don’t have an obligation to pay child support on their stepchildren. Any continuing relationship will be entirely dependent on the goodwill of their former spouse.

In New Jersey, you have the right to request visitation or shared custody even without a biological or legal connection to the child involved, which can certainly benefit stepparents who have played a role in raising their stepchildren and who have bonded with them.

An appellate court ruling in 2014 involving a same-sex marriage helped extend visitation and custody rights beyond just those with a biological tie to the child involved. The courts effectively ruled that those who have played a major role in the upbringing or life of a child often become important to those children. Maintaining the relationship, even with someone who would usually have the right to shared custody or visitation, may be in the best interests of the child.

Showing that you have a bond and that you want what is best for your stepchildren can strengthen your claims in New Jersey family court. Provided that you can demonstrate that the relationship is in the best interest of the child, the courts may very well choose to uphold your role as a stepparent and allow you to share custody or at least secure visitation with your stepchildren.