The limitations to stepparents’ decision-making authority

When divorced people who have primary or shared custody of their kids remarry, their new spouses often assume an important role in these kids’ lives. They may take them to or from school, cheer them on at games or concerts, help them with homework and generally be an involved stepparent.

However, stepparents have no legal rights when it comes to their stepchildren simply because they married their mother or father. Being a stepparent doesn’t automatically grant someone the right to make medical decisions for a child, for example.

If it’s necessary for your spouse to have some legal decision-making authority for your children, you may want to seek some modifications to your parenting agreement. Sometimes, parents will designate that under certain circumstances, a stepparent can make decisions for their children. For example, if your child has a medical emergency while he or she is with the stepparent and neither you nor your co-parent can be reached, you can give your spouse the power to authorize a necessary treatment or procedure.

Of course, your co-parent has to agree to any legal authority you give your spouse (assuming that he or she hasn’t lost all rights to the children). It’s essential to have a legal document in place stipulating these rights. Don’t rely on a verbal or informal agreement, no matter how well you and your spouse get along with your ex.

The other way that a stepparent can gain legal rights over a stepchild is through adoption. In Arizona, both legal/biological parents must consent to the adoption unless the other parent agrees to terminate his or her parental rights (if that parent is alive and can be located.) The stepparent must also have been married to a child’s parent for a minimum of year and have resided in the same home as the child for at least six months.

Until and unless you take one of the steps described above, it’s essential that stepparents and their spouses know the limitations of stepparents’ ability to make decisions for their kids. Often, if stepparents overstep their authority, it’s because it’s necessary for a child’s immediate well-being. However, there could be legal ramifications. If it’s in a child’s best interests to give your child’s stepparent some legal authority to make decisions, your Arizona family law attorney can help you work to do that.

Source: FindLaw, “Can Stepparents Make Legal Decisions for a Stepchild?,” George Khoury, Esq., accessed May 08, 2018

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