What happens when a step-parent and a parent get divorced? A step-parent may have parented a child since infancy, but they may not have any legal rights to continue to do so. That doesn't mean that a step-parent will need to take a step back, merely that legal avenues will need to be negotiated and mediated if the step-parent is to retain any rights.
Birth Parents and Legal Precedence
Regardless of how involved a step-parent has been in a child's life, they aren't likely to have any legal rights unless they have legally adopted the child. Legal adoption affords many protections, and this is one of them.
In some states, a step-parent can have some form of guardianship or Power of Attorney. This allows the step-parent to make some decisions on behalf of the child. However, having guardianship or Power of Attorney isn't a guarantee and isn't the case in most states.
On the other hand, birth parents can choose to give rights to a step-parent. They can always choose to arrange things like visitation. The complication, though, arises if one birth parent wants this and the other birth parent does not. In this situation, the case would need to go to court to be resolved, and the court would consider which option would be best for the child.
Step-Parents and Child Support
Most step-parents don't need to pay child support because they aren't considered responsible for the child. However, in some cases, a step-parent could find themselves needing to pay some form of child-related support for some time.
The Child's Birth Parents Cannot Pay for Them
If the child is currently living with a parent who cannot pay for their needs and the stepparent is living in the same household, the step-parent may need to pay for the child's needs. However, this ends once the step-parent moves out - once the divorce is finalized, this won't be an issue. It will only be an issue when the divorce is on-going.
The Step-Parent Has Paid for the Child's Financial Needs
If the step-parent has acted in the role of parent and has previously helped to financially support the child, they may need to pay limited child support. This isn't traditional child support, but rather is pursued under an Estoppel Doctrine, which essentially states that the step-parent has made a financial promise to the child and must maintain it. The birth parent will need to take this issue to court in order to pursue it.
Of course, children may also be taken into consideration when other marital settlement agreements are made. If a step-parent has been taking care of all the needs of a child and has been taking on the role of being a parent consistently, then they may need to be concerned about child support.
Negotiating and Mediating a Divorce
The above outlines which rights a step-parent has, which are not many. However, a negotiated or mediated divorce, through legal professionals, can still provide the step-parent with some avenues and agreements. A step-parent may never have the right to parent, visit, or see their step-child if the child's birth parents do not allow for it. However, they may be able to negotiate terms as they go through the divorce process.
On the flip side, it's very unlikely that a step-parent will need to pay any type of support to a stepchild, especially if they did not have a particularly strong role in that child's life.
Divorces are particularly complex when children are involved. If you have any questions about your divorce, child custody, and moving forward, talk to a professional as soon as possible. Call Bahrie Law today to stand up for your rights.