“Just a Stranger”: Stepparents and the Law

Stepparents often play a vital role in caregiving children. They handle pick up, drop off, science fairs, and sports. However, under our laws here in Michigan, a stepparent is a “legal stranger” to their stepchild unless they have legally adopted the child as their own. 

What If I Am Legally Married To My Stepchild’s Parent?

This is the case even if the stepparent is legally married to the child’s biological and custodial (primary custody) parent. Even if the other parent is never involved in the child’s life, but still retains parental rights,then the step parent is just a legal stranger. 

It isn’t unlessl the other parent’s parental rights are terminated that the step parent can step in as a legal parent to the child, and that happens after a step parent adoption. After an uninvolved biological parent’s rights are terminated, the stepparent must go through a lengthy process to adopt the child. Only then will the stepparent be regularly allowed to make medical, educational,or other important decisions.

Can a Stepparent Ever Make Decisions for a Stepchild?

One meaningful way that stepparents can make decisions for their stepchild is by adding the child to their own estate plan. Absent legal adoption or court-appointed guardianship of a stepchild, a stepchild will not immediately inherit anything from a stepparent who passes away. One way that you can be involved in your stepchild’s life without the approval of the other parent is to write your stepchild into your estate plan. 

Stepparents can also work with both legal parents of their stepchild to play an active role in the child’s life. It takes a village to raise a child, and stepparents enhance a child’s network of trusted adults. It happens much more smoothly if both biological parents are on the same page to allow the stepparent to be active in their children’s lives. 

Another way a stepparent can legally make decisions for a stepchild in Michigan, is through a Temporary Delegation of Parental Authority where a custodial parent can use a power of attorney to grant their spouse the ability to make decisions for a child for a short period of time. This is useful if the custodial parent is leaving overseas for a work trip. Families all over Oakland County, from Birmingham to West Bloomfield, to Troy should consult experienced family law attorneys before trying to make decisions for a stepchild. 

It’s Better When You Know The Rules

Caregiving a child is never an easy task. However, for blended families here in Michigan, with stepparents and maybe half-siblings, it is difficult to know where your rights start and where they end. That’s where the experienced attorneys at The Kronzek Firm come in! We can help you navigate the complex laws that regulate stepparent decision making. We help families all over Oakland County with their family law matters. We’ve been handling these cases for nearly 30 years. Call us today! We can be reached at (248) 479-6200.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week in emergency situations.