Do you automatically have legal responsibilities to stepchildren?

I’m curious about what duties might automatically be assigned to in relation to the stepchildren when you marry someone with children. (Assume here that you don’t formally adopt the children.)

Do you have to provide them with the necessities of life? Food/shelter/clothing and such?

What about extras, say, ballet lessons or dues for team sports?

How about college costs?

Does it differ depending on the age of the child at the point you married their parent?

If you later divorce the parent, can you be made to pay child support?
I know there is ‘common law’ marriages in some states, where you considered married after living as husband and wife for some number of years. Is there something similar where if you’ve acted as a child’s parent for X years, you are considered to be their parent, with the usual rights and duties?
(This is just idle curiosity.)

I think your required to be evil towards them. Not sure though my legal understanding comes from fairy tales.

Your mate has a legal obligation to provide the necisities. as a spouse they will look at the assesets that you have as part hers.

If you divorce you would have no legal ovligation to the kids.

Step parents have no legal obligation except in rare cases that you mentioned at the end “where if you’ve acted as a child’s parent for X years, you are considered to be their parent, with the usual rights and duties.” The most common being when a wife cheats and has a kid that isn’t the husbands but he doesn’t find out until the divorce a few years later. I’ve also heard of it happening when one parent is totally absent and the other parent dies, leaving the child with no one but a step parent.

Not necessarily, it’s possible to keep financial assets separated. In some locations it’s even the default value, in others it’s common enough that it doesn’t require a prenup, the registrar will ask “pooled ownership or separated assets?” and tick the proper checkbox.

Do either of you have cites for these comments? It will depend on the law of a particular jurisdiction, but for example, in Canada, the step-child may be considered the “child of the marriage” and therefore the step-parent would have potential support obligations.

See the federal Divorce Act, s. 2:

I am not an attorney, but I read recently that if a step-parent has at one time begun legal proceeding to adopt a stepchild – even though the adoption never is completed – that stepchild may have some legal rights at the time the estate of the step-parent is settled.

I have no cite for that.

Like any good patriotic American, I just assume every question is about the US of A. :slight_smile: Not the greatest cite but the only one I have time for at the moment…

Wiki: The stepparent is a “legal stranger” in most of the US and has no legal right to the minor child no matter how involved in the child’s life they are. The biological parents (and, where applicable, adoptive parents) hold that privilege and responsibility. So if the biological parent doesn’t give up his or her parental rights and custody of the child, the other parent’s subsequent marriage cannot create a parental relationship without the biological parent’s written consent before a “child” reaches adulthood. In most cases, the stepparent can not be ordered to pay child support.

When talking about step parents and their responsibilities to children, I can’t help but think of this scenario. I know it’s a movie, but it makes sense to me.

I don’t believe there is a legal requirement for a biological or an adoptive parent to provide these things. I don’t see how a step-parent would be required to.

Does anyone know if a non-adoptive step parent’s income is using when colleges calculate financial aid?

All income on the tax returns of all parents is relevant. If the Bio-parent filed jointly with the step parent, then yes. If not, it may still be part of household income.

Calif is a community property state, requires a pre nup

The Canadian law basically states (see above) that if you “act like a parent” you will get dinged for support when you split up. The logic is that a parental relationship, biological or not, is not something the parent can abandon.

It comes down to a court judgement if necessary. Did the kids call you “dad”? Did you discipline them, sign school permission slips, feed them, buy them clothes, etc. - all the activities that a parent would do? Unless the child was already pretty old and/or had a decently close relationship with the biological parent, you run the risk of being held liable for support - until they are 18 or finish college.

Canada has a table - total income of parents, number of children, amount to be paid (shared proportional to income). The only serious inequity is that except in Quebec, future children do not diminish the support current child gets.

Absolutely. When my step-son went off to college we looked into some aid but they do the calcualtions on his “household” income. That is basically my and his mother’s income form our tax fomes. I am sure we could have twisted and turned in some clever way, like having him claim to live with his deadbeat dad, but we just didn’t bother. Other than that I don’t think us step-parents have much in the way of rights or responsibility. Basically, step-parents are supposed to just keep their mouths shut and their wallets open and when they aren’t needed any more they can just butt out. Or maybe I’m bitter?

You may be thinking of what is called “equitable adoption.” In another example, here is a Missouri bar journal article on the subject.

In general, under U.S. state family law, step-parents who do not adopt the children of their new spouses are said to stand in loco parentis, a relationship which imposes some duties on the step-parent for as long as the marriage endures or until the child reaches majority/is emancipated/becomes independent—but this in loco parentis relationship does not ordinarily persist past a subsequent divorce

However, all states have statutes in place criminalizing abusive behavior toward children, which includes neglecting the child. Every state I’m familiar with criminalizes step-parents “exercizing custody and control over a child” (your verbage may vary) who abuse or neglect a child living with them more harshly than someone who does not lve there. If you refused to feed, adequately house or mantain basic sanitary conditions in your home, you could be charged with neglect.

I just got done filling our financial aid applications for my step-daughter. The forms we had do separate out parent from spouse-of-parent, but all numbers are reported.

And to your point, my favorite phrase is, “You want my output, but not my input!”

Step-parent income is calculated as part of household income into financial aide calculations, and this potentially screws the child much more than the parent: I have personally known at least two families where the resident step parent was very clear about NOT supporting the kids–families where the kids’ total expenses, down to things like quick trips to the grocery store and movie tickets, were carefully paid out of the bio-parent’s income. Stepparents like that certainly don’t contribute towards their stepchild’s college fund, but they can reduce the aide the child qualifies for.

IIRC, this was a factor in my former sister-in-law’s decision to wait until both my niece and my nephew were finished with their schooling before remarrying.

Again, depends on the jurisdiction. In Canada, under the federal Divorce Act, attending university or other training is considered “other cause” in the definition of “child of the marriage” I quoted earlier, so in the case of divorced spouses, the non-custodial parent can be required to contribute to the child’s university costs.