As in other states, when it comes to Missouri child custody matters, the children’s best interests are supposed to be the most important factor. We usually think of this in terms of maintaining relationships with the child’s biological or adoptive parents. But what about stepparents?
Relatively little research has examined the affect losing a stepparent to divorce can have on children. In many cases, the stepparent had a stronger and more vital relationship with the child than his or her noncustodial parent ever did. It is natural to assume, therefore, that losing contact with a stepfather who helped raise a child for many years could be at least as traumatic as when the child’s biological father is denied custody rights.
A small study from the University of Missouri sought to explore what it means to sever a stepparent-stepchild relationship. According to a press release, researchers interviewed 41 “young adults” of unspecified age, all of whom had experienced stepfamily dissolution earlier in life.
About half of those interviewed considered their stepparent a family member by the time of the divorce. Of that group, half continued to maintain a relationship with their ex-stepparent. The other stepparent-stepchild relationships ended, presumably immediately after the divorce, or at some later point.
It appears that a child’s perception of his or her relationship prior to the loss of that relationship affects his or her reaction to that loss. When a child does not consider the stepparent to be part of his or her family, the ambiguity of whether to continue the relationship can be highly stressful.
When the stepparent is considered family, children naturally tend to expect the relationship to continue, the study says.
This may not always be possible, or even advisable, but children’s best interests often mean that their father or stepfather continues to be an important part of their lives after divorce.