Discrimination Against Stepparents

By Julie Garrison

Special to DadsDivorce.com

divorce stepfamilyThe law works to protect marriage and nuclear or traditional families.

Stepfamilies, however, are considered incomplete institutions to be ignored and as stigmatized groups, less functional and more problematic than nuclear families.

The “progress” made in expanding the stepparent’s role is primarily geared toward increasing stepparent financial obligations without increases in parental rights or recognition of the important roles that many stepparents play in their stepchildren’s lives.

According to the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, approximately 10-20% of America’s children reside in stepfamilies. Does this mean that the divorce rates are lower than represented? No, it does not.

It means that more and more divorced couples are cohabitating but not marrying. Why should a stepfather marry the children’s mother? Since he is invisible to the legal system, he and his beloved can have an invisible marriage, as well.

In her dissertation, “Worldwide Stepfamily Tribulations Under Current Laws and Social Policies,” Margorie Engel, Ph.D., states: “Family courts have been slow to accommodate people traditionally defined as outsiders. At present, the legal rights and obligations for the first-marriage family, however stormy and brief, are generally not extended to the stepfamily, however stable and lengthy. Clearly, the perils associated with the changing composition of families have not been adequately considered.”

In the United States, specific laws pertaining to remarriage and stepfamilies have been left to the states. This has created broad inconsistencies in legislation for this under-represented group.

A recent article on this subject states the height and breadth of what is lacking:

“While marriage clearly defines obligations and rights between the stepparent and the child’s natural parent, the stepchild is not considered part of this web of rights and obligations, even when the child resides in the same household. With few exceptions, stepparents have no obligation during the marriage to support their stepchildren, even while they have an obligation to support their spouse, the child’s parent. Nor do stepparents have any right of custody or control. If the marriage terminates through divorce or death, they most often have no rights of custody or visitation, no matter how longstanding their stepparent role.  And stepparents do not have any obligation to pay child support following divorce, even if their stepchildren have depended on their income for many years. Conversely, stepchildren have no right of inheritance in the event of the stepparent’s death and do not receive the safety net of continuing benefits that they would with the death of a biological parent.”

The courts are way overdue for a shift in the way stepparents are regarded. This can be accomplished without diminishing the role of biological parents.

The family law courts in the U.S. need to stop treating stepparents as interlopers and recognize them, legally, for their investment in the lives of their stepchildren.

Since divorce and remarriage (or cohabitation) are on the rise, the sooner step-parenting is recognized as a viable, integral part of family structure and afforded more family rights, the better off the family will be.

 

Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.

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4 comments on “Discrimination Against Stepparents

    mY FATHER JUST PAST AWAY AND LEFT MY STEPMOTHER WITH EVERYTHING LIFE INSURENCES AND GRANDFATHERS SHE HAS TOOK ADVATAGE OF ALL IN FAMILY EMBELSING MONEY FROM GOVERMENT FUNDS BILLING THE MEDICARE SYSTEM WITH A 450.00 HEATING PAD I NEVER RECIEVED AS WELL AS ALOT OF THINGS THAT I DNT KNOW WHAT TO DO I NEED HELP PLEASE MY NUMBER IS 5152091661 AS WELL AS IM DISABLED AND DNT KNOW WHER

    Solution looking for a problem
    “The courts are way overdue for a shift in the way stepparents are regarded.”

    I shudder to think how they will be held in their new regard.

    Mom collecting child support from both dad and former stepdad most likely.

    Sticky Issue
    My immediate reaction to this article is throw up my hands and say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ The issues of divorce are challenging and complicated enough. There are no winners but now you’re piling on. From grandparents rights to, now, STEP-PARENTS rights??? This is a horrible issue that will only dilute parenting time for someone and complicate an already ugly issue.

    Step parents should NOT be the financial safety net of a child who already has parents UNLESS they have legally and fully adopted said child and the biological parent has given up their rights as a parent. Otherwise let the biological mom and dad support their children.

    The courts need to stay out of this issue and biological parents as well as step-parents need to fight this – not support it. I get it – step parents often feel shafted but as a dad who has seen how well the courts protect the rights of dad’s in general I fully disbelieve your assertion that the courts can throw the so-called rights of a step parent into the mix and not make things worse for them as well.

    Two thumbs down for this article appearing on Dadsdivorce.com.

    I realize this comment was left many years ago, but I’ve never disagreed with a comment on an article so much as now.

    The most ridiculous line in the entire comment: “let the biological mom and dad support their children.” What exactly are you suggesting here? If a kid falls down, a step parent should just sit and watch the kid cry expecting the biological parent to take care of every scraped knee? Only make meals for you and your spouse, if the kids wants to eat they can wait to eat at their other house? Stepparents should lock themselves in their rooms for the times the kids are home so as to avoid any indication that they might actually care about the children?

    What you cease to understand, Rob, is that some people have the capacity to wholeheartedly love children who are not biologically related. There are people in this world who meet the love of their life and fall in love all over again when given the opportunity to meet their children. There are people, a growing number of people, who choose to spend their Christmas Bonuses spoiling the crap out of the children they love and regard as their own. There are those who will never have biological children and have chosen to devote their world into molding their stepchildren into successful, loving, caring, kind members of society. Why is it so much to ask, then, that a person who plays the role of a parental figure for 50% of a child’s life gain at least 50% the respect and legal accountability required of a parent.

    I wouldn’t dare say that this is an easy endeavor, but it is certainly worth the effort , and in the very least worth the consideration.

    Two thumbs up for this article appearing on Dadsdivorce.com

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