In the time of growing frequency of divorces and remarriages, it turns out that not even a half of U.S. children below the age of 18 live in a traditional family. 15 percent of them live with two parents in a remarriage. 6 percent of them live with a stepparent.
The number of stepfamilies is increasing as is the number of divorces and second marriages. Such circumstances demand certain law rearrangements and adjustments, since we all know what rights biological parents have, but we will probably have problems with telling what the situation of stepparents looks like from the legal point of view.
Family law is concerned mainly with traditional family order. Stepfamilies are still considered less important and this makes them undervalued. Stepparents often play a very significant role in a stepchild’s life, yet legally, they have almost no rights when it comes to decisions concerning their stepchildren.
If a stepchild is not adopted by a stepparent, the latter has actually no right to decide about the stepchild in any areas. The situation looks a bit different in Arizona where through a Power of Attorney form, stepparents can receive natural parents or legal guardian’s rights, but for no longer than 6 months. In about half of the US states, there are finally laws giving stepparents visitation rights. 10 of the states give the right to request visitation, 13 of them have made stepparents “interested third parties” and 5 other states gave stepparents the right for petition for visitation. The remaining states, like Florida, do not have any laws connected with visitation rights for stepparents.
Stepparents are not obliged to support their stepchildren, except for two situations: 1. A state statute imposes such a duty, 2. A stepparent decides to act In Loco Parentis (legal responsibility to take some of a parent’s responsibilities, for example when a biological parent cannot support a child). Apart from this, stepparents can influence the amount of child support which a stepchild gets from parents, but it depends on certain state’s law. For instance, if father remarries and both he and his new wife are employed, mother can ask court to increase the child support, because the financial situation of the biological father has improved thanks to the stepmother’s income.
The stepchild support matter cannot be analyzed as one universal case, since its regulations vary between states. Generally, it can be quite complicated when families live in different parts of the USA.
Unfortunately, most of us die without leaving a will. This brings lots of problems and conflicts, especially in the case of stepfamilies. From a legal point of view, stepchildren have no right to a stepparent’s possessions, unless he or she has left a will. Estate planning is extremely important in the case of blended families. Reviewing it and checking its specific terms while planning to remarriage is crucial if we want to avoid conflicts and unwanted scenarios in the future.