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Step Parent's Quick Guide to Teen Custody Questions

Monday, July 27, 2020

With the way modern families form today, custody and parenting questions can get pretty complicated. There are rock-solid families where the parents are not married, dedicated spouses raising step-children, and co-parenting teams with two to ten different family members working together. One of the most common "gray areas" of custody is the role of step-parents who may be acting as active parental roles with limited legal grounds to make decisions.

This is especially challenging for step-parents of teenagers who are often at least partially aware of their rights and have a great deal of choice in which parent they live with, if they choose to exercise that power. Being a good parent to a teenager requires a balance of giving space and enforcing boundaries, something that can be uncomfortable for even the most dedicated step-parent. You may be wondering where your real enforceable authority begins and ends. As a child custody attorney office, we're here to answer those questions as clearly as we can in general terms.

Your Parental Rights as a Step-Parent

If you have adopted your step-child, you have full legal rights as their parent, the same as a biological parent would. So, that should clear up a whole slew of teen authority related questions. If you haven't adopted your step-child, then your authority comes through the biological parent you are married to.

You are, effectively, functioning with implicit permission to exercise parental duties and make decisions your partner -- their parent -- would agree with. Much like a camp counselor has implicit permission to care for kids under their supervision. However, as the spouse of the biological parent, you also have some extended rights to sign things like permission slips for your step-children instead of their parent.

Your Step-Parental Rights Against the Wishes of Your Spouse

What about in cases where you disagree or are splitting up with the biological parent of your step-children? This issue comes up often with modern blended families. Particularly, in cases where the step-parent has become the more dedicated caretaker. Without a custody battle, your rights are usually still limited to anything that is an extension of the biological parent's wishes.

However, in a legal separation or divorce, step-parents who are a dedicated part of a child's life have a surprisingly strong chance of winning at least partial custody. Your custody rights will more likely be determined by what is best for the child, including your existing parent-child relationship. This is true even if you are not the biological parent. However, your custody rights do not overpower those of both biological parents.

There are very few situations where a step-parent is able to take full custody or make a decision directly against the wishes of capable and reputable biological parents.

Your Parental Rights Dealing With a Rebellious Teen Step-Child

So, your teen step-child, about whom you love and care, has shouted that you're not their real parent and can't make them do __X__. Now, you're wondering if they're right. As we said before, your parental power are an extension of their biological parent's rights. Therefore, if their parents agrees with the rule you are enforcing, yes. You can probably ground them, lock their phone in a drawer, deny their allowance, or forbid them from dating someone for a few more years.

Alternately, your teen step-child has made it clear that they want to live with you and not their biological parent after a breakup. Now, you're wondering if you can support them in that. Would be charged with kidnapping, or something similar? This goes back to the custody question. The teen can absolutely speak at a custody hearing and make a strong case for living with you, as teens get a lot of say if they explain themselves well and their reasons are good.

Additionally, if your teen step-child shows up on your doorstep and insists on staying, most courts would not consider this as a qualified kidnapping. But the teen may be forced to go back to their biological parent's home once found. 

Conclusion

As a step-parent, you exist in an interesting custody limbo unless you choose to step up and make yourself a separate entity in a custody battle. For the most part, as long as you are parenting with your spouse, you have all the parental authority you need to handle step-children and even rebellious teens. For more information about family law or to consult with a child custody attorney, contact us today!