Statistics show that 1 out of 3 Americans is now or has been a step parent. It is a very common situation in New Jersey as well as other states. Although many people become step parents, they frequently have little understanding of their legal rights, during a marriage to the childrens’ parent and after a divorce from that person as well.
Everyone’s situation as a step parent is not the same, by any means, and consulting a family lawyer is advisable to know and understand your legal status in any matter involving your current or past relationship with stepchildren, or your concern regarding a spouse or ex-spouse who is a step parent to your children.
Historically, a step parent does not have custody rights during or following a marriage to a child’s parent. If the child’s other parent is deceased or has given up legal child custody, many courts have awarded some form of custody to a step parent. But it is not automatic and certainly not to be assumed without a court order.
A step parent could become a legal parent by adopting a child under those same circumstances, and many people choose to assume the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent by filing for adoption. In doing so, they also assume the obligation to pay child support if they eventually divorce their adopted child’s other parent.
However, adoption is not the only situation which can result in a step parent paying child support. During a marriage, both spouses can potentially become responsible for making each other’s child support payments if the other spouse is unable to meet his or her obligation. This obligation is not automatic, and it should be explored with a New Jersey family lawyer in any case.
The child support obligations you may face as a step parent will vary, depending on whether you are still married to the child’s parent or whether you are divorced. This fact is significant in any court-ordered child support calculations.
In New Jersey, the obligation to support a step child is triggered by the inability of the child’s parent (to whom you are currently married) to do so. Supporting a step child may include paying child support for that child. And, in some situations, your history of providing financial support for a step child can lead to child support obligations for you even after your divorce from that child’s parent.