Ending your marriage when you have a blended family adds another layer of complication to an already complex process. Issues like custody and child support are often relatively straightforward when it comes to a child’s biological parents, but what happens when the kids have formed a strong relationship with their stepparents? Do stepparents have a right to see their stepchildren, and can they be obligated to pay child support? There are no straightforward answers to these questions, but there are some general guidelines.
What Is a Blended Family?
First of all, what we mean by “blended family” is a family situation where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship. They may also have children together, who would be the other kids’ half-siblings. All the kids may live in the household full-time, or they may spend time with their other parents. Quite often, the children form strong relationships with their stepparents and stepsiblings, many times just as strong as the relationships with their blood relatives. This is great for them, but it does make the situation more difficult in the event of a divorce.
What Obligations Do I Have Toward My Stepchildren?
The Divorce Act addresses adults who “stand in the place of a parent,” and the Ontario Family Law Act discusses adults who have “demonstrated a settled intention to treat a child as a child of his or her family.”
While this does give us some guidance, the situation is still open to interpretation. If the child’s other biological parent is completely out of the picture and you have clearly stood in for that parent, then the court will view you as such. However, if (for example) your partner’s children live with their other parent the majority of the time and only see you for visits, then you may not be viewed as their “stepparent” for support purposes.
Even if you don’t have any legal obligations toward your stepchildren, there are still emotional obligations. Talk it over with your spouse and see if you can come to an agreement so that you can maintain a relationship with their children. You may not be entitled to an actual court-ordered custody arrangement, but that doesn’t mean you can never see the kids again.
Will I Have to Pay Child Support for My Stepchildren?
Again, this issue comes down to whether you have actually stood in as a parent to the child. Because this issue isn’t exactly cut-and-dried, there are several factors the judge will look at to determine whether this is your situation.
- Did you always demonstrate an intent to consider the children a part of your family?
- Do your stepchildren call you Mom or Dad?
- How involved are you in parenting decisions and discipline?
- Do you financially support them?
- How involved is the child’s other parent, and to what extent have you taken their place?
Depending on the answers to these questions, you may indeed be liable for child support, even if the kids aren’t yours biologically. However, this is a situation that, even with these guidelines, is widely open to interpretation, and each judge will have their own opinion on the matter. This means that even if you have friends or relatives who have been through this, you should not assume that the decision in your case will be the same as theirs, even if the circumstances seem similar to you. It’s also worth noting that a stepparent’s decision to end an emotional relationship with the child does not necessarily mean you’re no longer responsible for child support payments.
How Do We Come to an Agreement?
If you want to maintain a relationship with your ex’s kids but your ex is opposed to it, or vice versa, this can be very difficult to work out. This is a situation where professional mediation can be extremely helpful. A mediator can’t make any legally binding decisions, but can help the two of you work through the issue and come to an agreement that both of you can live with and is legally binding.
In Collaborative Practice cases, both parties retain their own lawyers and work with a Family Professional to come to an agreement. In almost every case, an agreement is reached successfully.
Are You Divorcing With a Blended Family? Call Galbraith Family Law
Getting a divorce when you have a blended family adds an extra wrinkle to a process that’s already difficult and emotional. Instead of trying to navigate it on your own, it’s much better to have an experienced lawyer on your side. To get in touch with Galbraith Family Law, you can request a consultation or give us a call. If you live in the Newmarket area, call (289) 802-2433; if you’re in Barrie, call (705) 302-1102.