Understanding Stepparent Rights Under Colorado Law

Step-parenting is a voluntary commitment taken on by a spouse who marries a spouse who already has children. With the rates of unwed mothers giving birth to children and divorce and remarriage rates at an all-time high, step-parenting is much more common in modern society. Marriage, divorce, and child-rearing are all riddled with challenges and uncertainties that leave children in the cross-hairs. As a step-parent, there are many situations that arise that may leave you feeling like nothing more than a parent by marriage, rather than a co-parent with your spouse. And, in other circumstances, you may feel like you are more of a parent than your stepchild’s biological parent. Every family is unique and presents with its own challenges. In today’s post, we are going to discuss some rights that stepparents have under Colorado family law.

At the Law Offices of Kelli J. Malcolm, we are aware that family is not necessarily defined by blood and genes. We have seen many families ripped apart by divorce and stepparents and their stepchildren caught feeling helpless through it all. We are experienced handling Colorado family law cases in Arapahoe and Douglas counties, including defending stepparent rights. For the support and defense that your family deserves, contact me today.


Choosing to enter into a marriage with a person who already has children from a previous relationship is a noble journey of love for both your spouse and their children. When both biological parents are active in co-parenting, this may become more difficult, especially if relationships are strained. However, some remarried couples co-parent very well and make two blended families who work together in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, these are not the cases that end up in Denver family courts.

As a stepparent, you may feel like your hands are legally tied and you have little rights when it comes to the child and their best interests. However, you may be glad to learn that Colorado family law does extend some parental rights to stepparents. Of course, under the eyes of the law, biological parents will always have priority when it comes to caring for the child and their wishes. However, there are several circumstances where you can assert your rights in helping to raise your stepchild(ren).

Stepparent Rights to Parent

While under your care, you have the same legal obligation to provide for the welfare of the child the way any parent does. For nuclear stepfamilies living in a household, Colorado law recognizes the stepparent’s ability to manage the home, discipline, and day-to-day parenting the same as any caregiver. Stepparents may be granted legal authority by the biological parents to act as a natural parent with regards to medical care, education, and ability to travel, without surrounding the rights of any other parent or legal guardian.

Stepparent Right to Adopt

Stepparents may legally adopt their stepchildren if the other parents no longer have parental rights or are willing to have them revoked. Once a stepparent has legally adopted their stepchild, parental rights are the same under the law as those of the natural parents. If the noncustodial parent has abandoned the child for more than a year and has not paid any child support for the same amount of time, you may petition to adopt your stepchild if the custodial parent is your spouse and agrees. If neither of the child’s natural parents is providing physical or financial support for the child and you have been caring for the child as their parent for more than six months under these conditions, you may also file a petition to adopt.

Adopting your stepchild grants you all legal rights and responsibilities as a natural child. This means you can move with the child, make all medical and education decisions, and you may request visitation and be liable for child support in the event of a divorce.

Stepparent Rights to Visitation and Custody

When a stepparent divorces the spouse that makes them a stepparent or their spouse dies, this can make situations complicated. After spending time bonding as a family, it may be difficult for both the stepchild and the stepparent to break the child-parent relationship after the divorce. However, under Colorado family law, former stepparents are legally allowed to request visitation or custody rights of their former stepchildren. The courts err in the best interest of the child, and in many cases, maintaining these parent-child relationships, even with a non-natural parent, is in their best interest. Former stepparents may even be granted custody of non-natural children if neither of the biological parents is physically caring for the child and the former stepparent is.

Under Colorado law, the same laws discussed above apply to common-law marriages as well. If you are a stepparent facing parental rights, visitation, or custody challenges, contact the Law Offices of Kelli J. Malcolm today. I will help you understand your legal rights and build your case in the best interest of your (former) stepchildren. Contact me for your consultation today.