Do Step-parents Have the Authority to Make Legal Decisions for a Stepchild?
Divorce is especially hard on children because they rarely understand the reasons behind the decision, and only perceive the practical consequence that their parents do not live together anymore. Disputes over child custody and parental responsibility can particularly complicate things. While the child may struggle to adapt to this disruption in daily life, welcoming a new adult into the home if a parent decides to remarry can be equally challenging. Despite the common and unflattering depiction of step-parents in movies and books, many step-parent/step-child relationships and are healthy and productive and do not include the abusive, overbearing bearing behavior step-parents are sometimes charged with using. From a legal standpoint, a step-parent has no authority to provide consent to medical treatment, enroll a child in school, or make any other routine decision without approval from the legally-recognized parents. This lack of authority can cause problems if the child’s parent becomes ill or is otherwise unable to fulfill his/her parental duties. Informal and formal legal arrangements exist that can bridge the gap between a desire by the step-parent to become more involved in a child’s life and the limitations of the law.
Piecemeal Written Authorizations
The easiest and least expensive method of granting authorization to a step-parent for a step-child is a written letter from a parent or legal guardian that specifically gives the step-parent the power to make decisions. While the simplicity of this arrangement can make it appealing, it does require preplanning, and does not really take into account emergency situations. It is impractical to carry a letter of authorization around constantly, and while no medical facility would deny a child treatment for a serious condition because a parent is not present, non-emergency medical care cannot occur without consent from an adult with parental rights.
Step-parent adoption is a permanent solution to the lack of authority, but does involve the investment of money and time. Step-parent adoption is only available if the person is legally married to one of the child’s parents. If a married couple wants to initiate a step-parent adoption, they must file a petition in court. Florida does not permit a child to have three legal parents, so the only way to complete a step-parent adoption for a child with two living parents is through the termination of one parent’s rights via consent or court order. Sometimes the consent of a parent is unnecessary. For example, if the parent deserted the child, previously lost his/her parental rights, or is ruled incompetent, consent is not required. Because of the gravity of the rights being granted and the concurrent seriousness of the loss of rights by a parent, the law wants to be sure all interested parties know about an adoption petition. Consequently, the legislature created a database for potential fathers of unwed mothers, called the Putative Father Registry. When a man registers his name on the database, he becomes entitled to notice about any impending adoption. Thus, checking this list is necessary if the biological father is out of the picture, but may have known about the woman’s pregnancy.
Despite the legal requirements, step-parent adoptions are easier and faster than conventional adoptions, and can be completed in one day if both parents consent. This legal option ensures the step-parent removes all obstacles to caring for a child, and may be the right choice for families looking to fully integrate.
Contact a Family Law Attorney
If you are a step-parent wishing to have more of a say in a child’s life, talk to a family law attorney about your legal options. A family law attorney can look at the dynamics of your family and guide you toward a choice that makes the most sense. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+