Blended families have become a common occurrence, as many single parents choose to marry other single parents. Unfortunately, many of these couples will later divorce as well. In some instances, the couple will have had a child together, in addition to the children each have from previous relationships. This can result in complicated parenting time litigation or agreements.
Recently Christina Anstead, of Flip or Flop and Christina on the Coast fame, has announced the end of her marriage to Ant Anstead. Christina was previously married to her Flip or Flop co-star, Tarek El Moussa. Christina shares two children with Tarek, Taylor, and Brayden, as well as one young son, Hudson, with Ant. Ant also has two children from a previous relationship. Christina and Ant will now have to determine a parenting time schedule for Hudson, where each parent will likely have some time with the child. Christina never legally adopted Ant’s children, and Ant never legally adopted Christina’s children. It is now wholly possible that Ant and his children may never see Taylor and Brayden, despite the emotional attachment that has likely grown between them throughout the two-year marriage. Therefore, Christina may voluntarily choose to allow Ant to exercise parenting time with Taylor and Brayden during his time with Hudson. This kind of agreement can be written into the parenting time agreement, though it can be difficult to enforce if Christina and Ant later disagree or if Tarek were to object to Ant having time with Taylor and Brayden, as Tarek could demand that time for himself since the children would not be with Christina. Because Taylor and Brayden were not legally adopted by Ant, Ant does not have any legal rights to the children.
In some tragic circumstances, a single parent may marry or enter a civil union with a new person and then die before their child reaches adulthood. Again, this can be an extremely difficult time for the child, who has now lost one parent and may be deprived of the step-parent to whom they have become attached, as the child’s other parent would have superior rights if the child was never legally adopted by the step-parent.
Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court heard a case wherein a man, Sharpe, married a woman, Westmoreland, and had a child before divorcing. Sharpe then entered into a civil union with a second woman, Fulkerson, who also had three children from a previous relationship. Sharpe and Westmoreland had held equal parenting time with their child, and the child became well-bonded with Fulkerson and her children. Sharpe then died, and Westmoreland refused to allow Fulkerson and her children to see the child.
Illinois law provides that grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, and stepparents who were married to the parent at the time of the parent’s death may petition for substitute visitation and allocation of decision-making powers regarding the child if the parent dies. This allows the child to maintain connections to their deceased parent through that parent’s family. However, Illinois law has never previously considered whether a stepparent in a civil union with the deceased parent would be allowed to step into that role and assert their substitute visitation and decision-making responsibility. On September 24, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Fulkerson, stating that a civil union is an alternative to marriage that offers all of the same rights, responsibilities, and protections as a marriage. Therefore, a stepparent, whether by marriage or by civil union, may have the same rights as a grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling of the child to substitute visitation and decision-making responsibility for the child. The court that decided the parents’ initial divorce will then be required to hear the matter and consider the child’s best interests in how much visitation and decision-making responsibility the stepparent should have.
If you are a stepparent, Kiswani Law, P.C. can be there to help you draft an agreement for parenting time with your stepchildren in your divorce from their parent, and we can be there to help you fight for visitation and decision-making responsibility if your partner has died. Call us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.
Written By: Stephanie Gilbert