It is not unusual for a person in California to become a stepparent without going through the usual process of legally adopting the children of a spouse’s previous relationship. A lot of times, it’s a role that is just taken on by virtue of the demands of the new family structure and the fact that the couple is now married.
But just because a stepparent fulfills what many might consider to be the normal parenting role and responsibility sometimes doesn’t necessarily mean that the obligation to do so can or should be assumed at all times. To clear the air, establish legal parameters and support responsibilities, it’s helpful to go through the process of legal adoption.
An example of the kind of legal wrangling that can occur if adoption is not pursued is offered up in a case from another state. According to a report on the matter, the dispute started as an effort by a stepfather to prevent his ex-wife from moving her children with her to California.
When the couple married in Serbia in 2005, the woman was the single mother of twin siblings. The family moved to Pennsylvania and separated in 2009. When the woman decided to move to the West Coast in 2012, the ex-husband petitioned the court for partial custody of the children and to block the relocation. In response, the mother petitioned the court to have her ex-husband pay child support.
The apparent foundation of both claims was the stepfather’s claim that even though he had never legally adopted the children, he had stood in loco parentis. That is, he had intentionally assumed the rights and duties of being a parent.
Interestingly, the trial court agreed with his position and granted his requests, but the mother’s claim for child support was denied. The court said the stepfather didn’t owe child support because he was not the biological father.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the man’s claim of assumed parenthood rights, but overturned the latter finding. In effect, what the majority of the court said was that being in for a penny means that the stepfather has an obligation to be in for a pound.
Some legal observers suggest the case serves as a word of caution for parents in any sort of blended family situation.