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Does a Stepparent Have a Shot at Getting Legal Decision Making?

Did you know that less than 50% of kids in the United States under 18 years old live in a “traditional family” household (Pew Research Center)? In today’s society, 15% of children live with parents who are in a remarriage. And 6% of children live with a stepparent (2013 Current Population Survey). The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center estimated the number of stepchildren as of 2011 to be between 10 and 20%, but since remarriages are on the rise, we can only assume that the number stepfamilies and stepchildren are also increasing.

Given these statistics many find it surprising that while stepparents often play a crucial role in raising a child, they rarely have any significant legal decision-making rights for their stepchild. Family law tends to focus on protecting marriage and traditional families. In fact, you could easily go so far as to say that stepfamilies are drastically (and often) underrepresented. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when thinking about stepparents’ rights.

Stepparents and Child Custody: Unless a stepparent has legally adopted a stepchild, they usually have no legal right to make decision on their behalf. They do not have a say in medical decisions, who has access to the child, educational choices, etc. regarding their stepchild. In recent years, courts have become more lenient regarding visitation rights. Under California Family Code Section 3100, a judge may grant “reasonable visitation rights” to any person who has an interest in the welfare of a child.

Stepparents and Financial Responsibility: California law demands that both biological parents provide financial support for their child, but a stepparent is not required to support their stepchild unless the stepparent legally adopts the child, which means they effectively take the place of the biological parent.

Stepparents and Estate Planning Issues: It’s common knowledge that many people pass away without a will in place. When this happens and the individual was part of a stepfamily, it can leave a tangle of issues to be sorted through. For instance, when a stepparent dies without a will in place, their stepchild has no right to their stepparent’s inheritance.

If you are a stepparent and you have questions about stepparent child custody in California, please get in touch with one of the experienced California family law attorneys at The Maggio Law Firm so we can assist you.

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