Marrying into a Stepparent Role: Things to Consider

One often overlooked aspect of divorce is that it puts people back into the dating scene. If you've gotten serious with a divorcee who has minor children, it's important to know what becoming a stepparent means legally.

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Heed these tips from 4 top family lawyers

When considering whether to marry someone with children, every situation is different. However, here are a few points to put some thought into.

Know what you're getting into

Marrying someone who has gone through a divorce means entering into a situation where there may be leftover tension — especially when children are involved. Before you arrived, the post-divorce family dynamic may have been clear. If you marry into the situation, this dynamic will shift.

While the parenting plan your new spouse has with their ex doesn't involve you now, that could change when you enter the picture legally.

Andrew Vaughn, founder of NuVorce LLC, says, "A court cannot bind a stepparent to follow a Custody Judgment because the court lacked jurisdiction over the new stepparent at the time the Custody Judgment was entered." But you may have to abide by the judgment if it includes a provision stating that stepparents are bound to it.

Vaughn says other provisions may apply to you, such as "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."

Lawyer Vaughn explains, "Upon joining a family, you may open up your personal information to everyone involved." This could come into play during 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 concerned about what rules are currently in place and how your personal information will be shared, sit down with a family lawyer before tying the knot.

Understand how much control you have

When you move in with your new spouse and their children, it may feel like you have a lot of control over the children's lives. However, legally speaking, that isn't the case.

Many of the day-to-day duties that a biological parent carries out without a second thought are not on the table for you as a stepparent.

Jonathan Breeden of the Breeden Law Office explains, "As a stepparent, you won't have the legal jurisdiction to make decisions for your stepchild." This means you cannot legally give consent for your stepchild's medical care, sign their school forms (e.g., permission slips) or attend school functions without parental consent.

It gets more complicated if there are changes in the family dynamic as time goes on.

Mr. Breeden continues, "If your spouse dies, you won't have legal responsibility [for] your stepchild unless you have legally adopted the child, have been given parental rights, or have been designated a legal guardian."

Whenever you enter a formed family, you must consider the preexisting legal conditions.

Don't become a wedge

Although you might become involved in your soon-to-be stepchildren's lives, you must respect that they still have two parents. No matter the division of parenting time, the other parent has a lot of legal power (unless your soon-to-be spouse has sole legal custody).

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."

She continues, "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 been through rough times is not something to aspire to and is not in the best interest of your stepchildren.

Think about the future

Getting married is a big deal. It's emotional and often a stressful time in your life.

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 who has children, this is a big mistake. One of the most important things to discuss is what would happen if the other parent moved.

Renata Castro of Castro Legal Group says, "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?"

She adds, "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."

Think about the future and plan accordingly. It could help mitigate problems down the road.

Preparing for new spouses in a parenting plan

Even if remarrying isn't on either parent's radar, you should include provisions that address the possibility when you write your parenting plan.

Unfortunately, figuring out what to include and how to put it in airtight legal language can feel overwhelming.

Use technology to take the guesswork out of the equation. The Custody X Change app walks you through each step of creating a plan, making it easy to detail the involvement of stepparents in your child's life.

The result will be a professional document that demonstrates your competence as a parent and secures your child's future.

The easiest and most reliable way to make a parenting plan is with Custody X Change.

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