Maintaining Relationships with Stepchildren after Divorce

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Thanks to the Brothers Grimm (and Disney’s family friendly repurposing of their tales), the words “wicked” and “stepmother” are inextricably linked. But while some step-relationships may prove challenging, most blended families are far from Cinderellaesque. In fact, many stepparents describe falling in love twice: once with their spouse and again with their spouse’s child.

For step-parents with loving relationships with their step-children, divorce can be doubly devastating as they mourn not only the dissolution of their marriage but also the potential loss of contact with their ex’s children.

If you’re similarly grief-stricken, remember: you’re divorcing your spouse, not his or her children. The end of your marriage doesn’t have to signal the end of your role as a parent.

Ideally, your ex will recognize the important role you play in your stepchildren’s lives and allow you to maintain the relationship. If your ex is obliging, reassure the children that the divorce doesn’t diminish your love for them and that you want to remain connected. Check in regularly and support kids at sports games, school plays, etc.

Unfortunately, some parents forbid their children from contacting their stepparent, particularly if the divorce proceedings were hostile. Unless you’ve adopted the child or can prove other criteria that entitle you to visitation, you’re not legally allowed to demand access.

It’s a frustrating situation. You may have been there for the child’s first steps, her first words, her first loose tooth – and suddenly she’s been ripped away from you. It can be particularly galling if the children’s largely absent mother or father (your ex’s first husband or wife) now gets to see the child more frequently than you do. And you’ll likely feel angry at your ex for shutting you out of their lives.

If your ex staunchly excludes you from the children’s lives, consult a lawyer. A qualified family lawyer may be able to build a case compelling your ex to give you access – or even joint or sole custody. If you and your lawyer have already ruled out this possibility, consider approaching the child’s other biological parent. He or she may appreciate all you’ve done for the children and choose to share their own custodial time with you.

If you do regain contact with your stepchildren, remember to be flexible and try to make plans that work with everyone’s schedule. If you aren’t able to arrange time with them, don’t give up hope. Even if they’re not permitted to contact you as minors, your stepchildren may choose to resume the relationship as adults. And no matter what happens, take comfort in the fact that the values you nurtured, the talents you helped cultivate, the lessons you taught – they will all remain with that child forever.