Rights and Responsibilities of Step-Parents
This is a topic which causes much unease and unhappiness within the parenting community. We are all aware of the difficulties parents have when divorcing and there is a child or children involved. Who has custody? What visitation rights are granted? Who pays for child support and in what amount?
All these issues can be complex and distressing. Well the matter can become even more complex and distressing when a step-parent or parents are involved. Take one invented but common example.
A couple marry and one partner has children from a previous relationship. The childless parent, the new step-parent, now has an instant family. The new family bonds well and the children accept their new step-parent with love and affection. Then disaster. The biological parent decides to seek a divorce and doesn't want the step-parent to have anything to do with his or her natural children.
The children don't want the couple to divorce and in fact the children love both adults.
This example is typical of many in which a step-parent discovers that they may have little in the way of rights but plenty in the way of responsibility.
The law has been described as an ass at various times but for those confronting a difficult situation, it is always good to have knowledge of the law as it applies to your case. For example, as a new step-parent, what is your legal relationship with your step-children? You may be legally married to the biological parent of the kids but what is your legal tie to them? In short, nothing, unless you legally adopt the children.
This fact can make a huge difference should your marriage fail. With being the legal guardian or the adoptive parent, you have few if any forms of legal redress if the divorce happens and the children are removed from your care.
It is always wise to seek professional advice on these matters and a lawyer who deals specifically in family law and the rights and responsibilities of step-parents is the ideal source of advice.
What makes it doubly difficult for many divorcing step-parents is that the law regards them as responsible when it comes to things like child support. They may be required by the court to pay for a child or children but when it comes to having access to a possibly much-loved step-son or daughter, the court may give them no rights at all.
The laws are different in various countries but one principle applies throughout and that is something called Parental Responsibility. While the word parental is part of the heading, this really is a law about children, about their rights and who cares for them.
Generally speaking, parental responsibility is automatically invested in a biological parent but not so in an adoptive parent. The law almost always favors the biological parent. The mother of a child always receives parental responsibility and the biological father, even if not married to the child's mother, is given certain rights. This is not the case with a step-parent and if you are involved or considering becoming involved in a situation like this, you are strongly advised to learn your rights and responsibilities as a step parent.
Become Successful in Step Parenting
One statistic about marriage shows that many divorced people re-marry. If one or both of the new partners is a parent, then an instant step-parent is born. Step parents can be part of almost any type of new family.
There can be one or more children. Both parents can have a child or children. The ages of the children can vary greatly. A younger new wife may be almost the same age as some of her step-children. But regardless of the age differences and the number of step children, there are certain tips a new step-parent should know.
Know and understand the difference between a birth family and a blended family. Of course it is hoped and often is the case that a coming together of new parents may make for a wonderful union. But there is a difference between a birth and a blended family. There is no need to highlight this but do be aware it exists.
Be prepared to change your stance on parenting. As a step-parent you may come into a relationship where your partner has used a certain method of parenting which you don't like or have never used. It is vital that you give your new situation time to develop. Jumping right in and trying to change the way things are done will almost certainly not endear you to your new family.
Your partner will not appreciate you undermining their authority, if that's the case, and your new 'children' will hardly be comfortable with their new parent announcing that things will be different around here from now on. Tread softly and slowly.
Get to know how kids think. It may be that the children in your new family are sad and guilt-ridden about the failure of the marriage of their birth parents. The step-parent may be seen, rightly or wrongly, as the cause of the marriage failure. If you know that this is the way some kids think, you will be better prepared to deal with the situation.
Be prepared too for hostility from your step-children. Remember you have married their father or mother, you haven't married them. They may not even like you or worse, they may hate you. Again be prepared for such sentiment and know that time and patience will be required to win over your new step-child or children.
Try and imagine what it's like for a child to arrive at a new school. There are plenty of opportunities for concern and unhappiness. You have appeared and become a new mother or father. This can be strange for both you and the kids. Don't be surprised if things don't go as well as you would like. Again the age of your step-children is a big factor and learn to be patient.
Having a family meeting on a regular basis may be an excellent idea. Remember you may be an experienced parent but an inexperienced step-parent. Set time aside to discuss things as a new family. Allow everyone to have their say and work hard at making your marriage successful. Step-children gain confidence when their parents are hitting it off.
The buzz word for your new situation is 'inclusive'. You are now in a new family. Your step-kids are now your kids. Think of the family as one even though you are a step-parent. Many such families work wonderfully well and you can make sure that applies to you.
7 Steps to Bonding with Your Stepchild
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