Stepparents and Legal Guardianship

Families are not static. They change and grow, and people welcome new members all the time through friendship, birth and marriage. Stepparents are an increasingly common and important part of the structure of many families. They can play a significant role in the upbringing of a child, acting as another adult for the child to receive guidance from and rely on.
While the emotional bond between a stepparent and a stepchild can be strong, the legal connection may be less concrete. This can place a stepparent in a sort of limbo if their spouse passes away or the marriage ends. Keep reading to learn more about what a stepparent may be able to do in order to establish legal ties in case something unforeseen or unthinkable happens.

The Stepparent Adoption

The adoption of a stepchild by a stepparent forms a permanent legal connection, giving the stepparent the responsibilities and rights a biological parent would have. However, since this approach is more complicated, it’s not going to be suitable for every family.
When a stepparent adopts a stepchild, it will end the legal ties between the child and his or her noncustodial parent. In cases where the noncustodial parent is a willing and able parent, attempting a stepparent adoption could damage the family and be a pointless effort. When a noncustodial parent opposes a stepparent adoption, the child in question may be exposed to a legal battle, family conflict and other things that can have a negative impact on his or her sense of stability and confidence.
In cases where the noncustodial parent will not or is unable to participate in the child’s upbringing or is absent, the stepparent and custodial parent may want to take this route to legally protect the stepchild-stepparent relationship. It can provide security and stability and will be vital if the biological parent passes away or becomes seriously ill.

Legal Guardianship

Unlike stepparent adoption, a legal guardianship doesn’t legally sever the ties between biological parents and their children. When a stepparent is made the legal guardian of a stepchild, both biological parents will still keep all their financial and legal responsibilities regarding the children.
Despite the upholding of the legal ties in a guardianship situation, the court may still be hesitant to allow a guardianship in situations where both parents are involved in the child’s upbringing and are able to parent. Legal guardianship requests are usually only used when one or both of the parents are unable or unwilling to care for the children. Guardianship, unlike adoption, also usually ends when the child reaches majority age or the court decides it is no longer in the child’s best interests or necessary.
In an emergency situation, such as when one biological parent must go outside the country or has a medical emergency, temporary guardianship can be used. This type of guardianship normally ends when the parent is able to parent again.
Stepparents tend to play an important role in their stepchild’s life. Because of this, many stepparents are not sure what to do when the death of a loved one or a divorce risks that relationship. Therefore, biological parents and stepparents should work together to find a solution that is best for the children before something unexpected happens. When a stepparent is a source of stability for a child, breaking those ties is almost never good for the child.
If you are a stepparent or married to one, speak to a family law attorney about what to do next if you have concerns. While adoption may not be an option in your case, you might have other alternatives.