NC Child Custody: Getting a Spouse’s Children from an Ex

Written by Jonathan Breeden

June 6, 2020

Blended families are common, but these situations come with complications.

Everyone should be driven by what’s best for the child or children involved, but there are important things to consider. If you and your spouse want sole or primary custody of a stepchild, their other parent might have a thing or two to say. You need to talk with an experienced North Carolina child custody attorney about getting a spouse’s children from an ex.

Attorney Jonathan Breeden has over 20 years of experience guiding individuals towards the custody agreements that work best for them and their children. With offices in Raleigh, Garner, Angier, and Smithfield, call (919) 661-4970 or contact us online to set up an appointment.

Custody Must Be in the Child’s Best Interests

It can be challenging for you and your spouse to share physical and legal custody with their other parent. When three or four parents are involved, there can be different ideas about what’s best. But the difficulties of the situation aren’t enough for you and your spouse to win primary custody. The custody arrangement has to be in the best interests of your stepchild.

If you and your spouse seek full custody of your stepchild, a judge in North Carolina is going to determine the situation that best promotes the interests and welfare of the child. That’s the law.

The judge will consider numerous factors, including the environment in each parent’s home, parent’s physical and mental health, parent’s history of drug or alcohol abuse, and any history of neglect or abuse against the child. The judge also evaluates the child’s age and needs and depending on the child’s age and maturity, their wishes.

Valid Reasons for Obtaining Primary Custody of a Stepchild

There are valid reasons why a court may award you and your spouse sole or primary custody while giving your stepchild’s other biological parent visitation. These reasons are usually severe. Otherwise, it’s rare for a judge to agree to limit a biological parent’s relationship.

A judge might reduce the other biological parent’s custody if they:

  • Don’t have safe living arrangements for the child.
  • Repeatedly or continuously expose the child to inappropriate people, such as romantic partners, criminals, and people with drug or alcohol dependency.
  • Have an untreated mental illness that impairs their ability to parent.
  • Struggle with alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Neglected the child by not providing adequate supervision, housing, food, clothing, medical care, and education.
  • Physically, sexually, or emotionally abused the child.
  • Committed domestic violence against a romantic partner or household member.
  • Repeatedly violate the current custody order and refuse to co-parent.
  • Try to alienate the child from you and your spouse.
  • Falsely accused you or your spouse of neglect or abuse.
  • Abducted the child and refused to return them to you despite the child custody order.

Asking the Court to Terminate a Biological Parent’s Rights

Termination of a parent’s rights is not something a judge takes lightly. But it might be the best thing. You and your spouse can ask the court to terminate the other parent’s rights based on:

  • Neglect or abuse of the child
  • Parental abandonment
  • Inability to provide supervision or care
  • Failure to pay child support
  • Failure of a father to establish paternity
  • A violent felony conviction

If the other parent voluntarily terminates their rights, or the court involuntarily terminates their rights, then you could move forward with formally adopting your stepchild. Adoption has the added benefit of ensuring you have a right to child custody even if you and your child’s biological parent divorce.

Can a Stepparent Win Custody Alone?

Custody of a stepchild can become even more contentious if you and the child’s biological parent divorce, and you never adopted your stepchild. You might have a close relationship with the child and feel your home is the best place for them.

It can take a lot work to convince a judge that a stepparent is a better option than a biological parent. You should talk with a lawyer about stepparents’ rights in North Carolina before diving into a child custody battle.

You’re going to have to prove that you play a considerable role in the child’s life and have for some time. You also have to show the child’s biological parents aren’t available or an appropriate option. Even if your ex-spouse can’t offer a safe home, the child’s other mother or father might be the next best choice.

A court might award a non-biological parent custody if it’s clear they’re the best possible situation for the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It might be that the court finds the child’s biological parents are unfit or unavailable because of death, desertion, incarceration, severe mental illness, ongoing alcohol or substance abuse, neglect, or abuse.

The best-case scenario, if you’re divorcing your stepchild’s biological parent, is to work with them to negotiate a child custody arrangement that’s best for your son or daughter.

Work with an Experienced NC Child Custody Lawyer

There’s no guarantee that you can get a spouse’s children from an ex. You might not like the other parent personally or how they choose to raise their child. But these reasons aren’t enough for a court to limit the child-parent relationship. If your concerns are founded in your stepchild’s well-being, though, talk with a lawyer right away about seeking sole or primary custody as soon as possible.

You can schedule a consultation with Jonathan Breeden, a highly experienced and successful family law attorney serving Wake, Harnett, and Johnston Counties. Call Breeden Law Office at (919) 661-4970 or through the online form.


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