Blended families–those that include step-children, such as his, hers,
and ours–are becoming more and more part of the social norm, particularly
since the divorce rate continues to increase. It is natural for step-parents
to develop a bond with their step-children and to want to continue a parental
relationship even after they divorce from the biological parent. However,
non-relatives are very limited in their right to seek custody of a step-child
or be appointed as the child’s conservator.
The Texas Legislature recognizes the fact that under special circumstances
a non-relative can be involved in a child’s life enough to be entitled
to seek rights that biological parents and other relatives have.
The guidelines follow alongside most of the
rules required for grandparents to seek rights to visit or obtain custody. More specifically, if a step-parent has “actual care, control,
and possession” of a child for at least six months, he or she can
file a petition to seek conservatorship of the child. Such a petition
must be filed within 90 days of the child leaving the petitioner’s
care, control, and possession. In this case, actual control is still the
subject of conflicting appellate rulings, but generally refers to the
step-parent having power or authority to guide and manage the child.
The same can be true if a child of a friend or relative has lived with
you for the last six months while attending school with your children,
and that parent is not able to take the child back into his or her custody,
such as due to death, illness, incarceration, financial difficulties,
etc. In this situation, you do have the right to file a petition for managing
conservatorship of the child. These conservatorships are often temporary
and do not require the biological parents to terminate their rights, but
they provide you with the rights and authority you need to legally make
decisions for the child’s care, possession, and upbringing.