Statutory Duty of a Stepparent to Support a Stepchild

Under the common law, a stepparent has no duty to financially support a stepchild during the marriage to the child’s natural parent merely by reason of the marriage. Stated otherwise, the relationship of stepparent and stepchild does not, in and of itself, impose any obligation of support.

A stepparent is obligated to support a stepchild during the marriage where (1) there is a statute imposing such a duty, or (2) the stepparent undertakes to act in loco parentis to the child.

Twenty states now have statutes imposing a duty on stepparents to support their stepchildren:

(1) Delaware: Del. Code Ann. tit. 13, 501(b) (1994) (stepparent liable for support of stepchild during marriage);

(2) Hawaii: Haw. Rev. Stat. 577-4 (1993) (stepparent liable for support of stepchild during marriage);

(3) Iowa: Iowa Code Ann. 252A.2(3) (Supp. 1996) (including stepchild in definition of children to whom a duty of support is owed);

(4) Kentucky: Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. 205.310 (Michie 1995) (stepparent has duty to support stepchild during marriage);

(5) Maine: Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 19, 752(6) (Supp. 1995) (support may be ordered against third party where such party takes custody after divorce after showing of parental unfitness);

(6) Missouri: Mo. Ann. Stat. 568.040 (Vernon Supp. 1996) (criminal nonsupport statute applies equally to parents and stepparents);

(7) Montana: Mont. Code Ann. 40-6-217 (1995) (if stepparent receives stepchild into family and supports him or her, stepparent is presumed to do so as a parent);

(8) Nebraska: Neb. Rev. Stat. 28-706 (1995) (criminal nonsupport statute applies to stepparents);

(9) Nevada: Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. 62.044 (Michie 1996) (stepparent liable to same extent as parent for neglect and dependency of child);

(10)New Hampshire: N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. 546-A:1, 546-A:2 (1974) (stepparent owes duty of support to stepchild during marriage);

(11) New Jersey: N.J. Stat. Ann. 30:4C-2 (West Supp. 1995) (includes in definition of child under neglect and dependency proceedings a stepchild);

(12) New York: N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act 415 (Consol. 1983); N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law 101 (McKinney 1992) (stepparent liable for support of stepchild to prevent the same from becoming a public charge);

(13) North Carolina: N.C. Gen. Stat. 50-13.4 (1995) (any person standing in loco parentis to child has duty of support);

(14) North Dakota: N.D. Cent. Code 14-09-09 (1991) (extending stepparent support duty during the marriage and so long thereafter as the stepchildren remain in the stepparent’s family);

(15) Oklahoma: Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 10, 15 (West 1987) (stepparent has duty of support to stepchild);

(16) Oregon: Or. Rev. Stat. 109.053 (1990) (stepparent has duty of support to stepchild);

(17) South Dakota: S.D. Codified Laws Ann. 25-7-8 (1992) (a stepparent shall maintain spouse’s children born prior to the marriage);

(18) Utah: Utah Code Ann. 78-45-4.1 (1992) (imposes support duty on stepparent that terminates on divorce);

(19) Vermont: Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, 296 (1989) (stepparent has duty of support of stepchild);

(20) Washington: Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 26.16.205 (Supp. 1996) (imposes duty of support on stepparent which shall cease on termination of relationship between husband and wife).

The Doctrine of In Loco Parentis
In the absence of a statute, under the common law, marriage alone does not obligate a stepparent to support his or her stepchild. Where, however, the stepparent acts in loco parentis to a stepchild, then the stepparent assumes an obligation to support the stepchild. Stated succinctly:

The universal rule is that a stepparent, as such, is not under obligation to support [his or her stepchildren], but that, if he or she takes the children into his or her family or under his or her care in such a way that he or she places himself or herself in loco parentis, he or she assumes an obligation to support them, and acquires a correlative right to their services.

© 1996 National Legal Research Group, Inc.

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