Many of our closest family ties these days are with people who aren’t biologically related to us. It’s common for marriage to bring not only a spouse but stepchildren, for example.
While the relationships between stepparents and stepchildren have been portrayed in everything from fairytales to reality TV as fraught with tension, that’s often not the case. In fact, you may have formed a tight bond with your stepchildren and feel that you helped raise them – particularly if your spouse’s ex lives far away or just isn’t a big part of their kids’ lives any longer.
So what happens to your relationship with your stepchildren if you and their parent divorce? When there’s no legal relationship with the children, your ability to remain in contact with them (or not) will typically be determined by their legal parents – at least while they’re still minors. Once they’re adults, they can decide for themselves whether to have a relationship with you.
If you want to remain in contact with your stepchildren (assuming that you haven’t been prohibited from doing so), one psychologist recommends that you first be honest with yourself about your motives. Are you doing it to stay in your ex’s life in some way, or are you doing it because you genuinely love the kids and want to maintain contact?
If you genuinely want to do what’s best for them, the psychologist recommends gradual, noninvasive contact – like with a good old-fashioned letter occasionally or birthday and holiday cards. This allows them to deal with the change on their own terms and reach out to you if and when they choose. Then, as they become adults, you can have a closer relationship if they want to.
If you and your spouse are able to have a non-contentious divorce, chances are that you’ll be able to maintain some type of contact with your stepchildren if that’s what’s in their best interests. Your family law attorney can help you work towards an amicable divorce, yet one with terms that are fair for you.