Knowing And Understanding Stepparents’ Rights

stepparents' rightsAccording to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, less than half of U.S. kids younger than 18 live in a “traditional family” household.

Today, 15 percent of children are living with two parents who are in a remarriage. According to data from the 2013 Current Population Survey, six percent of all children are living with a stepparent.

Exact numbers about the number of stepchildren are hazy (in 2011, the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center estimated that number to be between 10 and 20 percent), but with remarriages on the rise, it stands to reason that the number of stepfamilies is also increasing. 

Unfortunately, although a stepparent can play a crucial role in raising a child, they rarely factor into legal decisions regarding the stepchild.

Family law focuses primarily on protecting marriage and traditional families. Stepfamilies, it seems, are considered more problematic and often underrepresented. Here are some key issues to keep in mind when considering stepparents’ rights.

Stepparents’ Child Custody Issues

Unless a stepparent has legally adopted a stepchild, they likely have no legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child’s well-being. They have no say in the child’s medical decisions, who has access to the child, or educational decisions regarding the child.

Some states, such as Arizona, do allow the rights of the natural parents or legal guardian to be transferred to the stepparent through a Power of Attorney form. But not all states will accept the Power of Attorney form and they are often limited in time and what they allow. In Arizona, they are only valid for a maximum of six months.

Courts do tend to be more lenient in regards to visitation rights. In recent years, laws have been enacted to grant grandparents visitation rights and stepparents have fought for the same privilege.

Now nearly half the states (23) have laws authorizing stepparent visitation. Ten of those states explicitly name stepparents as having the right to request visitation and 13 other states list stepparents as “interested third parties.” Five other states allow stepparents to petition for visitation.

Still, a handful of other states, like Florida, do not recognize any visitation rights of stepparents.

Stepparents’ Financial Responsibilities and Child Support Issues

According to common law, a stepparent has no legal obligation to support his or her stepchildren. There are two exceptions:

  1. There is a state statute imposing such a duty. (There are 20 such states.)
  2. A stepparent undertakes to act In Loco Parentis to the child. In Loco Parentis refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent, such as when the biological parent is unable to financially support their child.

Depending on state law, stepparents could also impact the amount of child support a stepchild receives from each parent.

Consider this hypothetical: Two biological parents divorce and Dad ends up getting remarried. He and his new spouse are both employed. The biological mother could then file a motion asking the court to increase the amount of child support the biological father is paying since his living expenses have been reduced because of the income the stepmom is bringing in.

Because states have the right to make differing family laws, exactly what financial obligation a stepparent has to his or her stepchild can become even more confusing when families move across state lines.

Stepparents’ Estate Planning Issues

A number of studies show that the majority of people die without a valid will. When this happens in stepfamilies, it can leave a mess of problems to unravel.

A recent trust case from North Dakota shows the complexities of estate planning in blended families. William and Patricia Clairmont drafted two trusts for their grandson, Matthew. In both trusts, Matthew’s “brothers and sisters” were designated as trust beneficiaries if Matthew died.

But after the trusts were created, the Clairmont’s daughter, Cindy, divorced Matthew’s father, Greg. Greg eventually remarried and had two children with his second wife.

Matthew died unexpectedly in March of 2011 without a wife, children or will. Under North Dakota law, Greg’s children with his second wife were considered Matthew’s “brothers and sisters” and eligible beneficiaries under the trusts.

When a stepparent dies, their stepchild has no legal right to a stepparent’s inheritance if there was no will left behind.  However uncomfortable it might be, it is critically important to review your estate plan in the event of remarriage and make sure its terms are clearly defined.

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22 comments on “Knowing And Understanding Stepparents’ Rights

    Hi I am just after some advise I’ve got a amazing husband and 4 great step children and one child of mine so all in all 7 of us my oldest step son came to live with us over 2 years we get on great he hasn’t has much contact with his mother but that’s his choice he left on very bad terms 8 months after me and my husband started our relationship his x stopped him seeing the children for 9 months which was devastating for us all it went through the courts and after a long time and a lot of money we won all are visitation back the magistrate wasn’t to pleased with the x to say the least 5 months ago my 10 year old step daughter came to me and said her mum is bullying her so lots came out all 3 kids spoke out and said how horrendous it is and the terrible things that they have been going through sent shivers down mine and my husbands back so they haven’t been back since the x wife is yet again taking us to court the children have been in with us since then refusing to go back and very little contact from mother the middle son wanted to see his mum a couple off weeks ago so we encourage him to drop her a tex which he did we do encourage the kids daily to tex mother but it’s very hard work they are in the mind set that they don’t want anything to do with her the middle son decided to go back to mothers and see how it went they have all had there interviews by caffcass which went really well all the kids opened up and wrote letters to the magistrate to sat they all want to live with us permanently and see mother on there terms when they feel ready but in the mean time the middle son has opened up again saying all the horrible things that had been happing to them all are happing to him we have gone to caffcass with this information asking can someone please come out and listen to him my husband has also called them but they are still telling us that he has to go back until it’s our normal weekend mother is now making fun off him of what he has said in his letter to the magistrate which apparently the caffcass lady let mother read them me and my husband are at our wits end with worry for him I’ve asked if I can have a visit to talk to the caffcass people the children all come to me with everything we are all so close but it’s not a thing that’s done what help or advise can anyone help me with on what to do to help this poor lad we don’t go to court until November which is a very long time to wait any advise is most appreciated thank you.

    Question.. Currently my children have lived with my fiancé and I for 2 years. We have a great relationship and work well as a family unit. We will be getting married in 3 months. The kids mother is an absolute nightmare. She forbids that kids are alone for any amount of time with my fiancé whom I’ve been together with for 4 years.. According to her they can’t even drive to the store together let alone be picked up from school or something or that nature. Is this even legal for her to say? If so will that change once we are officially married. I know it won’t in her eyes, but what are my and my fiancé’s rights when concerning this issue?

    What should i do if im step mom, the biological mom hasn’t seen my step son in 3 years and my step son was in foster care when his father was given custody. The cps removed my step son from the mothers home. Mother has supervised visits but does not visit my step son or call him. He is almost 9 years old and has been living with me and his father since the age of 3. My step son calls me mom. He knows i am not his biological mom because i explained it to him. But i love him like my own child, and i dont think our bond could get any stronger. Anyway he father and i might be getting a divorce. Do i have any chance of custody or visitation? My step son lives with me and his father moved out. He lives in a studio with a friend of his and i have a house and my step child has his own room and is in school.

    I would have fought to have full custody of my children if I did not feel my children absolutely need a life with their father.

    As I found out, marriage is not forever. He stepped out of one marriage, he could do it again then my children would have to stay with the flavor of the decade.

    As an involved parent, to have a person who has no rights to be in my kids life but as a friend say that they are “raising my child” and that they have rights to have a say in the care of my children today or god forbid their dad dies makes me physically ill.

    I had an awesome stepmom but my daughter has one that tells her she wishes she was hers even refers to her as her daughter already to other people she talks down about me and all kinds of bs! My daughter says I have a mom and stepmom gets angry

    How do you know the step mom talks bad about you? Have you heard it or are you assuming it because your daughter likes her step mom? At some point you need to get over your hatred of the step mom and be grateful your daughter has someone else in her life that loves her! I’m a stepmom and dealing with a bio moms neurotic insecurities is exhausting and annoying. Honestly- get over yourself. Be grateful and stop trying to cause problems.

    It can cut both ways lady. Stepmoms can have the most neurotic insecurities so they feel the need to impose themselves in the co-parenting decisions made by the parents, overstep parenting boundries, or be down right nasty because they fantasize the ex is still in love with the husband and want him back even if not true. No way should biological mom should be grateful for that.

    OMG! What a hateful writing. You sound like my kids stepmom. What’s all that hate from stem moms?! Geez…you need to get over and understand that they aren’t your kids. They never were and they will never be. U didn’t give a birth and they don’t carry your blood. Done

    This is very discouraging to me Im a stepmoms of am 11yr old been in his life since he was 8…I here his complaints, I give him hugs, cook for him and to hear that were just treated like outsiders is very hurtful..

    You’re not an outsider I met my step mom when I was eight we didn’t always get along but I knew she always loved me. And to this day she is still mommy I have a tattooed on my arm you know the old sailors tattoo with the heart of the banner she is my rock and my comforter. The matter what the courts May sayThe law of the heart will always win out.

    I agree, Dee. I have a stepson whom I have raised full-time (with his Dad) since he was 8 (he is almost 16). He considers me his mom, but I have no legal rights. It’s frustrating that involved stepparents don’t get any rights that we deserve. I will adopt him when he turns 18.

    This is a very discouraging article, I’ve been in my stepsons life since he was 8 he’s 11 know and His biological mom does not play a part I’m helping raise him at all, I’m there along with my.husband raising him and I have no rights to make any decisions medically..but the system treats us like it’s our duty and obligation to take care of someone else’s kid, while the biological mom or dad Do their own thing…I feel so used!!!

    I am in the same boat. I’ve been in my stepsons life since he was 1. He is now 5. We are expected to take care of them like they are our own but we have no rights when it comes to them. Had I known this would be the way things would go, I don’t know that I would have gotten myself into this relationship. His dad and I have a child together but often times I feel like we are on the back burner. Everything is revolved around his son and his ex and her schedule. It’s very difficult.

    So how does that work????? Step parents have no rights but yet you want to use our income as a source if income for the mother filing support? Thats contridicting lets include their income but they have no say no thats bull shit ill be filing to make changes to this on behalf of step parents

    In Nevada Law, does a step-mom from out-of-state (Texas) have visiting rights to her step-children even if biological father (residing in Nevada) opposes. Dad and Step-mom are now divorced. Step-mom has been abusive to one step-child.

    Step child wants to b my son .. he is my son known him since 2 years old. Been I his live since then and our hearts made each other a promise… that’s that’s … he can go any time to his mother that is having affair with a man that clearly has nothing to do with his two kids how he want my 4 sons plus his … I’m financially sound so … I’m retired at 38 and wife trades in family to work all time instead of being in children’s life … but want to get engaged to man continue she having a affair with fir over 1.5 years while I do pick kids up and drop from school everyday and soccer football totur and doc vist … daddy ever bought nothing remarried.. has nothing to do with child nor mom cares how kids feel bout her lifestyle .. so he choose to b a family w me and my 2 other siblings for a deceased ex wife … so it’s just us and we r family .. step son lived everyday with me since 1-1-16 and mom come by 1 day a week at 10 pm .. when all work is done … what rights do I have to be able to fight for my son if school system is bulling him from a complaint step father made to ass principle.. get her sons to fight my step son because Verbally abuse kids in cafeteria daily …

    When there has been fighting in the home between a step parent and parent, is the natural parent required to drop off child to step parent for visitation?

    My divorce decree states that if “the receiving parent” (me) is not at home when my ex-wife arrives to drop off the children for parent time, I forfeit my right to see the children for that evening. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been late by less than 5 minutes and she has exercised that clause of the decree. I’m now remarried, and was told by a family counselor (therapist) that my current wife (and the stepmother to my biological children) is considered a legal “parent,” and my ex-wife is legally required to drop the children off. I’m in Utah, as some states appear to recognize the legal rights of stepparents differently. My law firm was Cordell and Cordell. Thank you in advance for your response.

    I am also in Utah, in the same situation you were in. My Ex is refusing to drop my kids off to my new wife when I am not home. Where can I find the information that shows that my new wife is considered a legal “parent”?
    Thank you.

    Can a natural father who’s in the child’s life daily prevent the step parents from attending any of the child’s activities, e.g. soccer match

    What are the 20 states that have statute imposing a legal obligation to support stepchildren? Is there a list somewhere? What would this be under?
    Thanks.

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