Blending into a family as a stepparent is a uniquely challenging experience for most adults. Not only do you have to adjust and compromise to differences in behavior, relationships, and culture in the house, but you have to be careful not to overstep any boundaries.
Although almost half of all families in the US are blended families from remarried parents, the rights and responsibilities of a stepparent remain confusing and challenging. To help you understand the extent of your role and learn how can step parents get legal rights, read on.
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You need to know that being a stepparent neither imposes obligations on you nor grants you rights over the family. Despite being separated from them, these realities exist to respect the custody, rights, and responsibilities of the children’s birth parents. Essentially, birth parents retain ‘parental responsibility’ and still have the right to decide how their children should be raised. Similarly, you retain parental responsibilities and rights over the children from your previous relationship.
Being a stepparent doesn’t automatically assign you as a legal guardian of your new partner’s children. Below are some more specific rights you do or don’t have.
Consent to medical treatment
There’s no question about a stepparent’s ability to love and care for their partner’s children like their own. However, remember that they still can’t make the call. In case of an emergency where a parental decision for a medical procedure is needed, you can’t call the shots. You can bring them to the hospital or attend to their needs, but the go-signal for sensitive medical treatments requires biological parents’ consent.
Accessing school records
According to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA, you can be granted access to a child’s school records, provided you’re designated to perform such function in the child’s joint custody arrangements. Additionally, this also requires consent from the former partner and the child’s biological parent. Once granted, you can see their records and even attend school functions as a stepparent. Take note, though, that it might require written consent from the biological parent.
Participating in custodial and disciplinary sessions
As a child’s development is of utmost importance, stepparents are also legally invited to join these arrangements, especially if you’ll be given custodial rights over the child. Additionally, if there are discipline specifications from either biological parent, you are legally required to follow them.
Essentially, your rights over your stepchildren are only available with consent from the biological parents. More often than not, it requires a mutual agreement between the parents to assign you rights and responsibilities over their child. This brings us to the next part, giving insights into what you can do to do more for your partner’s kids.
How can stepparents acquire legal rights
As mentioned earlier, the most common way to receive legal rights is to gain the mutual consent of the birth parents. Still, in reality, there are gradual admission of legal rights, especially if your partner is the custodial parent. The custodial parent is the one who currently retains custody of the children or the parent that the kids live with. Generally, you can earn opportunities to make decisions for the children while living with them.
However, rights granted as the situation arises are primarily contingent and only suitable for the particular instance. If you’re looking for more persisting and secured legal rights over your children, the best next thing to do is legally adopt your partner’s children. This is usually a less amicable separation between the kid’s birth parents.
As you fight for legal custody over the children, this means that the noncustodial biological parent must consent or give up their rights. This is a tricky process since it could cause conflict among adults and even cause stress and trauma on the child.
Another, more amenable option for all parties is to meet over joint custody agreements. This way, you can be granted rights and be entrusted with specific responsibilities without requiring the biological parent to give up their rights altogether. Either way, legal guardianships mostly last until the child has reached the legal age.
Whatever option you decide to go through, it is essential to talk to a competent family lawyer to create an arrangement that works for everyone involved, especially for you. If you’re a stepparent looking to be legally capable of providing care for your partner’s children and hopefully raising them as your own, reach out to a lawyer today and let them walk you through the process.