Most Florida parents are aware that in order to be held accountable for child support, an individual must be the biological or legal parent of the child in question. In the case of stepparents, when a blended family becomes divided by divorce, the stepparent usually moves on with no financial obligation toward his or her stepchildren. Of course, if the stepparent legally adopted a stepchild during the course of the marriage, then child support would come into play. In an unusual ruling, one state’s Supreme Court has determined that, in certain cases, a stepparent can be held responsible for child support.
The case centers on a family in which the stepfather assumed responsibility for his stepchildren during the marriage. When the couple separated, the stepfather continued to share custody with his estranged wife. He filed for divorce the following year. The couple divorced, but when the mother finished law school and made plans to move to another state, the stepfather asked the court to grant him shared custody.
That case concluded with the court ordering that the former spouses would share legal and physical custody of the children. Neither party was allowed to relocate without the consent of the other. Subsequently, the mother filed for child support, citing the custody order issued by the family court. That request was denied by two lower courts, and the case moved on to the state’s Supreme Court.
At that point, a decision was issued that the stepfather was liable for child support. Because he had fought so stridently for child custody rights, he was found to have a financial obligation to the children as well. One judge in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court case stated that ruling could serve to ensure that only parties who have a genuine interest in remaining involved in the life of a child will pursue custody litigation. A dissenting judge expressed reluctance to issue a ruling that, in effect, creates a new category of parenthood. The case serves as a warning to parents in Florida and elsewhere about the risks of taking legal action to establish custody rights.
Source: pennlive.com, “Stepparents who ‘aggressively’ fight exes for custody can be liable for child support, Pa. Supreme Court rules“, Matt Miller, Dec. 29, 2015