Legal Considerations for Marrying into a Step-parenting Role

One aspect of divorce that many people often overlook is that it potentially puts people back into the dating scene, if they so choose. If you’re single and dating, you may end up meeting a divorcee.

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If they never had children, your time and potential future together should be straight forward enough. But, if you start to get serious with a divorcee who still has minor children, you may want to have a better idea of what being a stepparent entails legally.

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When considering whether or not to marry into a step-parenting role, every situation is different. However, here are a few points of interest that you’ll definitely want to put some thought into.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Your new husband or wife-to-be is single again for a reason. There was something in their previous marriage that did not work. There still and most likely is some leftover tension.

Before you arrived, the post-divorce family dynamic was very clear. There were two parents that split up and the child or children were in the middle, for better or worse. Now that you may marry into the situation, that dynamic will change.

It’s important to know what you are getting into.

While whatever co-parenting agreement your new spouse and his or her ex have in place has nothing to do with you, when you enter the picture legally that might change.

Andrew Vaughn, the founder of NuVorce LLC explains, “A court cannot bind a step-parent to follow a Custody Judgment because the court lacked jurisdiction over the new stepparent at the time the Custody Judgment was entered. However, many Custody Judgements have provisions that the parents will review the Custody Judgment with any stepparents and ask the stepparents to abide by the agreement (including provisions as to who can be called “Mom” or “Dad,” whether corporal punishment is banned, what the parenting schedules will be, etc.)“

It could go even further than that as upon joining a family you may open up your personal information to everyone involved.

Vaughn continues, “Outside of that, a stepparent should be aware that they are joining a family that has gone through divorce and that they may (at least tangentially) be involved in any future court proceedings. For example, if one parent tries to modify child support, the stepparent may have to reveal his or her income information to the extent it impacts household income, etc. Many stepparents are unaware this can even happen and are often upset by the requirement that they share their personal information with their spouse’s ex.”

If you’re marrying into a co-parenting situation and are concerned about what rules are currently in place and how your personal information will be shared, you should consider sitting down with a qualified family law attorney before tying the knot.

Understand How Much Control You Have

When you move into a new home and your new spouse has a child or children living with them, it may feel like you have a lot of control over their lives. But legally speaking, that really isn’t the case.

Many of the day-to-day duties that a biological parent does without a second thought are not on the table for what you as a stepparent can do.

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Jonathan Breeden of the Breeden Law Office says, “As a stepparent, you won’t have the legal jurisdiction to make decisions for your stepchild. This includes the inability to legally give content for your stepchild’s medical care and legal validity when signing their school forms or attending school functions involving parents.”

It can get even more complicated if there’s further changes in the family dynamic as time goes on, such as if your new spouse passes away.

Mr Breeden explains, “If your spouse (biological parent) dies, you will won’t have legal responsibility over your stepchild unless you have legally adopted the child, have been given parental rights, or have been designated a legal guardian.”

Whenever you enter an already formed family, there are going to be some preexisting legal conditions you’ll want to think about.

Don’t Become a Wedge

It’s very important that although you might be more involved in your soon-to-be stepchildren’s lives, you have to respect that they still have two parents. No matter the time-split, unless your soon-to-be spouse has sole legal custody, the other parent has a lot of legal power.

Shaolaine Loving from Loving Law, Ltd. says, “You shouldn’t try to infringe on the other parent’s rights or do anything that could be interpreted as creating ill-will towards that parent or from the child. You are not charged with any legal rights over the child or any financial responsibilities, but if you do anything that the other parent could deem harmful or not in the child’s best interests, then the other parent could use that to try to strip custodial rights from your spouse.”

Aside from the legal repercussions, being a wedge that further fractures a family that’s already been through some rough times is not something to aspire to and is not in the best interest of your stepchildren in most circumstances.

Think About the Future

Getting married is a big deal. It’s a very emotional time in your life. Depending on the size of your wedding and reception, it can be very stressful.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the short-term happenings and forget to take a look at a few years down the road. But if you’re marrying someone with children already, this is a big mistake.

You may want to discuss what will happen if there’s a possibility the other parents moves, especially if they may move internationally.

Renata Castro of Castro Legal Group advises, “I would highly encourage discussing with a partner if there’s a possibility of overseas relocation. For example, if you are marrying a partner who is from Brazil who has Brazilian children, and for some reason the other parent, who is also Brazilian, relocates back home and your spouse wants to be closer. What do you do? Also, Immigration is a sensitive topic these days. Although stepparents, at least in Florida, are not legally responsible for support payments, if the stepparent becomes a petitioner for an immigration benefit, the US Citizen stepparent may be responsible for payments.”

Thinking about the future and planning accordingly can help mitigate any potential future problems.

In Summary

Marrying into a family is both a wonderful and complicated thing. You get to bond with more than just a new spouse, but with their children as well. However, with that comes added potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Having a solid idea of what you are getting into, what is expected of you, and what you can and cannot do, will only make your experience better.

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.

Make Your Schedule and Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.

Make Your Plan