Understanding Your Rights as a Step-Parent Post-Divorce

April 7, 2023

If you’re a stepparent going through a divorce in Illinois, you might be wondering about your rights as a step-parent post-divorce to maintain a relationship with your stepchildren. Unfortunately, the legal landscape can be a bit complicated.

Troxel v. Granville: A Landmark Case


In the landmark case Troxel v. Granville, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s lives. While this case involved the children’s grandparents, it is applied to step-parents as well. This means that the biological parents of children are the people who decide who spends time with their children unless a Court orders post-divorce step-parent visitation.

The Superior Rights Doctrine in Illinois


Illinois follows a similar principle called the Superior Rights Doctrine. This means that biological or adoptive parents generally have the final say in who their children see, including stepparents. The Illinois Courts solidified this in a case called In re Scarlett Z.-DIn that case, the Illinois Courts adopted the United State’s Supreme Court’s decision that biological parents have superior rights to determine who spends time with their children.

What Does This Mean for Your Rights as a Step-Parent Post-Divorce?


  • After divorce, your rights as a stepparent are limited. You can’t assume you’ll automatically have visitation or decision-making power over your former stepchildren.
  • You’ll need permission. To maintain a relationship, you’ll typically need the consent of both biological parents or a court order.

Seeking Legal Help


If you’re facing resistance from the biological parents and believe continued contact is in the child’s best interest, you can seek legal advice. However, it’s important to understand that obtaining custody or guardianship as a stepparent is difficult and often very, very expensive. It is not uncommon for step-parents to spend over $30,000 to make the attempt to have court-ordered time with their former step-children post-divorce, and spend years trying.

In my experience, these cases involve complex legal procedures with uncertain outcomes. I’ve even worked on some of the biggest cases in Illinois that have shaped the law in this area.

Protecting Your Relationship


While the law may not be on your side, there are things you can do to try to maintain a connection with your stepchildren:

  • Open Communication: Talk to the biological parents about your desire to remain involved in the children’s lives.
  • Respect Their Decisions: Even if you disagree, respecting the parents’ wishes can go a long way in building trust.
  • Seek Mediation: A neutral third party can help facilitate conversations and potentially reach an agreement on visitation.


I have a considerable body of experience with non-parent cases, and have added time for former stepparents to parenting plans in agreed divorces. If you and your soon-to-be-ex can agree that you will have some of their time, I can add it in. If you want to discuss whether that is possible, reach out to my office or call me. Even if its not possible to add it in, if you are your soon-to-be-ex are in agreement, let me take the hassle out of getting divorced.