National Stepfamily Day
By: Sara Canepa-Zenuni, Esquire
For over twenty years, September 16th has been celebrated as National Stepfamily Day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 2.8 million children under the age of 18 who were a stepchild of the householder. With such a significant amount of blended families, the question often arises, do stepparents have any rights over their stepchildren?
A stepparent has no legal right over the stepchildren, unless they legally adopt the child. Therefore, unless an adoption process occurs, a stepparent has no legal basis to make decisions on behalf of the child’s wellbeing. A stepparent not having any rights to enforce their authority or make decisions over their stepchild’s wellbeing could cause some families stress because of how intertwined family dynamics often are.
There are several ways that a stepparent’s role in a stepchild’s life can be addressed. Again, nothing gives a stepparent a legal decision making authority over the stepchild, but, their roles could be further clarified. Legal parents can stipulate to a child care provider who will care for the child and be able to do things such as pick up/drop offs from school, exchanges, or care for the child while the legal parent is unable to. Parents have the power to come to an agreement regarding all aspects of their child’s life, including a stepparent’s role in their child’s life. Legal parents should always keep this in mind: even though they have the ability to agree with each other on any matter regarding their minor child, a judge ultimately has no authority to enforce an order on a third-party, not subject to the court’s jurisdiction, i.e. a stepparent.
Compass Law encourages blended families to take steps to prevent conflict by addressing a stepparent’s role in their child’s life. By addressing the stepparent topic head on, parents are putting the best interest of their child first and setting themselves up for a successful co-parenting relationship that will benefit all family members – most importantly, the child.