Stepparents often create strong bonds with their stepchildren, particularly if they had an active role in the child's life for a prolonged period. However, stepparents often feel as though they have no legal leg to stand on when it comes to their stepchildren. It is true that your legal rights and obligations to a stepchild are often severed in a divorce, but there are a few things that you and every other stepparent should know regarding your rights to a stepchild.
Health Insurance for a Stepchild
A stepparent often becomes a huge part of a child's life. While married to the stepchild's mother, you may take it upon yourself to provide for your stepchild's financial needs. In some instances, the non-custodial parent may not be present in the child's life, therefore increasing the need for the financial security you can provide.
Unfortunately, the legally defined relationship between a stepparent and a stepchild is often a gray area or one that is poorly defined. For example, you may want to add your stepchild to your health insurance policy at work. You should be aware of the fact that not every state permits stepparents to add their stepchildren to a health insurance policy.
The best way to determine if you are capable of adding your stepchild to the policy is to contact your employer or health insurance provider to see if this is allowable. If the child's non-custodial parent is absent or incapable of providing any health insurance, you should speak with a family attorney about adopting the child.
Adopting a stepchild provide you with every legal right to provide that child with health insurance. In fact, adopting a stepchild provide you with every legal right a biological parent would have over a child. If the adoption of the child is not an option, you may still be able to provide your stepchildren with health insurance as many employers and health insurance carriers work to redefine "family" in their coverage policies.
Child Support for a Stepchild
In the past, once a stepparent divorced the parent of a stepchild, they were not legally obligated to provide any form of financial support for a stepchild. However, many states are now adding statutes that require support from the stepparent after a divorce. To determine if you may be legally obligated to provide financial support for your stepchild after divorce, you would need to speak to a family lawyer about your state's laws.
In the majority of cases, a judge will determine that it is the child's biological parents who have a duty to provide for the financial needs of a child. However, there are instances in which a stepparent must also fulfill this obligation. For example, if you adopted your stepchild while married, you would be legally responsible for providing child support after the divorce.
If the child's non-custodial parent is not present in the child's life and you provided financial support during the duration of your marriage, you may have to continue providing support. Currently, there are twenty states that have developed statutes that require stepparents to provide some form of support for a stepchild during the marriage.
The reason it is important to realize these twenty states is that it falls under the Doctrine of in Loco Parentis. Under the doctrine, a judge may make an exception to the law, which means a stepparent would be legally obligated to provide child support payments if the biological parent is incapable of financially supporting the child after divorce.
Visitation of a Stepchild
Divorce is often hard for everyone involved, particularly the children. As a stepparent, you may have formed emotional and psychological bonds with your stepchildren over the course of your marriage to their parent. In these instances, it is normal to want to continue your relationship with the children even after a divorce.
Unless you have adopted your stepchild prior to the divorce, your legal ties to the child are often severed. However, that does not mean that you are out of options. If you can prove that you had an active and involved presence in the child's life, you may be eligible for visitation after the divorce. You must prove to the judge that you formed a strong parent-child relationship with your stepchild in order to receive visitation rights.
The court may be more willing to provide you with visitation or even custody of your stepchild if you meet certain qualifications. For example, talk to your family lawyer about defining you as a de facto parent. A de facto parent is a person who assumed and fulfilled daily responsibilities for the health and wellbeing of a child.
To qualify as a de facto parent, you would need to show that you provided for the child's financial needs daily and assisted them with daily responsibilities such as:
- Getting dressed
- Transportation (to and from school, doctors, etc.)
- Feeding (preparing meals)
Aside from de facto parent rights, there is also psychological parent rights. The judge will take into consideration what is best for the child. If you were present in the child's life continuously and the child formed an attachment to you, the judge may grant your request for visitation. The judge may speak with the child to determine if the child wants to continue a relationship with you prior to making a decision.
Although you may be a stepparent, your role in a child's life is very important. Therefore, do not automatically assume that a divorce will decimate your relationship with your stepchildren. If you are willing and determined to continue the relationship, speak with a family lawyer, like Sanoba Karie L Attorney, about pursuing whatever legal rights you may have to your stepchildren before, during, and after a divorce.