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Stepparents usually have no rights in child custody cases

In Georgia and all other states, the role of stepparents in a child custody matter can be important. It may be that a child’s stepparent is a nurturing person who develops a strong parental role in caring for a stepchild. The relationship may be greater than what the child has with a natural parent. In one recent child custody case, however, a biological mother prevailed in a battle for custody with the child’s stepmother.

The biological mother herself had just served six years in prison for aggravated assault, ironically to one of her stepchildren. During the incarceration, the stepmother took over full physical custody of the jailed woman’s son, and developed a strong parental role with the child. It's unclear if she also had formal legal custody. However, that stepmother recently lost child custody to the natural mother, who had returned from prison to reassert her parental rights.

The natural mother had successfully bargained for a reduced charge of aggravated assault in the child abuse charges regarding her stepchild. Due to that successful plea bargain, she was in a stronger position to get physical and legal custody back. After seven years of caring for the boy, the stepmother lost physical custody.

In all jurisdictions, including Georgia, stepparents do not usually have legal rights in a child custody case with respect to their stepchildren. They may have a form of derivative rights by virtue of the rights granted to the natural parent to whom the stepparent is married. However, those rights will not usually be enforceable where the natural parent is no longer in the picture. It may be in the foregoing case that the natural parent was no longer with the stepparent, who then found herself in a position with nearly no rights to assert custody in a contest with the natural mother.

Source:, "Stepmother heartbroken after losing custody", Heather Mathis, Aug. 22, 2014

Source:, "Stepmother heartbroken after losing custody", Heather Mathis, Aug. 22, 2014

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