family court litigation

What rights do stepparents have towards their stepchildren?

Stepparents generally have no more rights than a babysitter. On the other hand, in certain circumstances, they can get legal custody of their stepchildren.

A stepparent is a family member once they marry the parent of minor children. But unlike Mom and Dad, StepMom/StepDad have limited legal rights towards the children of their spouse.  As they are not legally the parents, they cannot engage in a confidential relationship with the child’s medical doctors, counselors, teachers, therapists, or legal representatives.  

A Stepparent can transport the child to the doctor, but is not permitted to make medical decisions on behalf of their child. A Stepparent can provide transportation to and from school but is not permitted to make educational decisions on behalf of the minor child.  A Stepparent can supervise the minor children on an overnight basis if the natural parent is  out of town, but if the other natural parent wants that same time, the Stepparent must yield.

Furthermore, the minor children must respect the Stepparent and follow their reasonable household rules, as they must with any adult. In this same line, a Stepparent can reasonably enforce house rules and impose discipline (although I would not recommend corporeal punishment) in order to compel cooperation. 

There are occasions, however, when the Stepparent may want or need to obtain custody. In these circumstances, the law requires that the natural parent must be aware of, and consent to, a Stepparent assuming parental roles, that the Stepparent and the child live in the same home, the Stepparent has assumed parental roles and has established a strong bond with the child.

When would this happen?  Most likely when the death of a parent occurs, or a parent abandons the family.  

The bottom line is that Stepparents are part of the “family” in that they are household members, but have no legal authority to do much more than enforce “house rules”, provide transportation and watch the children when the parent is not present.  Their authority will always be subservient to the parents.

I hope you find this helpful,

Be well and stay safe,


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