Step Parents – Child Custody Child Support Guardianship Paternity and Adoption
Stepparents are becoming an ever more common feature of family life these days, and many of them would like to be better informed about their responsibilities and legal rights when it comes to their stepchildren. One reason for this is that stepparents will often have a strong connection to these children and will even assume a degree of responsibility for them – including financial responsibility.
Still, under New York law stepparents don’t automatically get standing in a court to ask for parenting time or custody rights if the biological parents are alive and can be legally established. They do not have the parental authority of a biological parent just because they have married a child’s father or mother. If they do not adopt the child or aren’t legally appointed as a guardian, they do not automatically get visitation or parenting rights.
At the same time, the stepparent may be forced to pay child support if the child in question is close to becoming a “public charge.” Often, learning that this is the case can serve as an incentive to prompt an individual to get a divorce. However, in cases where a child is not in danger of becoming a public charge, stepparents are generally not obligated to provide child support for their stepchildren unless they become the child’s parent through equitable estoppel. This occurs in cases where a stepfather views a child as being his own – even when there is no biological relationship.
In these instances, the stepfather might be viewed by a court as the actual father, regardless of DNA testing. For the court to apply equitable estoppel, it must find that this would be in the best interest of the child or children. One of the primary purposes of estoppel doctrine is that it keeps a stepfather from reneging on any promises made regarding the child or children in question.
Another area where this is relevant is DNA testing. If one party requests DNA testing, the court may decide that this testing would not necessarily be in the best interest of the child being tested. One reason the court might arrive at this decision is the doctrine of equitable estoppel. It can also be due to res-judicata – which means that a judge has already determined the issue – or because the child of a married woman is presumed to be legitimate.
In any of these situations, the court might decide that the test should not be performed. While estoppel is an option for stepparents who wish to be identified as an actual parent, it can also be used in instances where an individual does not want to be considered the parent of the child or children.
From a legal standpoint, a stepparent who wants to become a larger part of a child’s life can choose to apply for guardianship if the appropriate parties fully consent to this. In the state of New York, there is very little distinction between someone who has custody of the child and someone who is that child’s guardian. In other states, the difference can be more significant. Frequently, when a person gets custody of a child, the term “custody” relates to how the court sees that person’s status as a parent – or grandparent, since they can sometimes file a petition for custody.
Guardian is a designation that can be given to a variety of relatives, such as grandparents, aunts or uncles. Even non-relatives can be designated as a child’s guardian. Guardianship itself is a term used to describe the obligations of a person who has to take care of a child and to look after his or her best interest. In New York, adult relatives, family friends or even agencies like child protective services can be designated as a child’s guardian. Children above the age of 14 can petition the court to have someone legally designated as their guardian.
Because of the nature of guardianship and custody laws in New York, we frequently recommend that our clients weigh the possibility that it might be better for them to relocate to another state when petitioning for guardianship or custody. The laws in these other states might be more useful for their purposes. They also have to consider the fact that health insurance can sometimes be influenced by whether they have guardianship or custody.
In some cases, parents can designate guardians for their minor children in their wills. This can be done in an instance where a child’s parent or present guardian has developed a chronic or fatal disease. In such a situation, a “standby guardian” named in the will could assume the role of caring for the child in the future if the parent or current guardian passes away or is incapacitated. Stepparents are frequently considered for the role of standby guardian.
In today’s social and legal environment, stepparents are frequently regarded as a significant emotional and financial support for children. In some instances, such as with a case of neglect, courts will sometimes elect to place children with their stepparents. It is important to note that placement resulting from a case of neglect does not necessarily represent a permanent situation, since the court can easily change this at a later time.
Stepparent adoptions can be an effective way for a spouse to obtain full parental rights over children in the state of New York. This option is useful for both gay and straight couples. Once parental responsibility is devolved on a stepparent, he or she will have the same ability to insist on their parental rights as any biological parent.
If you want to know more about this topic – or some other family law topic or other legal issue – check out our blog posts for further information. In addition to this, please feel free to contact us about a free consultation. At Spodek Law Group, it will be our pleasure to discuss your situation and help you determine your best course of action.