Step-parenting Requires a "Learn As You Go" Approach
Society provides limited reasonable expectations for stepfamilies, says Aronsohn. "Stepparents find themselves learning as they proceed, since there no guides for step parenting. Also there are problematic and potential painful legal issues to consider regarding custody, support and estates because "in the eyes of the law, the statues of parenthood [are] generally restricted to biological and adoptive parents."
These "painful legal issues" support, visitation, adoption, often infiltrate the step relationship and make for difficulties. Stepparents have nowhere near the legal standing of natural parents. The stepfamily exists in a legal netherworld, where stepparents find themselves legal strangers to children they must try to, if not parent, then at least supervise. Mary Ann Mason, Arlene Skolnick and Stephen D. Sugarman, in their book "All Our Families", describe the "poorly formed concept of the role of stepparents" in American life. They write:
In her review of state law applying to stepparents and stepchildren, in "Still a Patchwork Quilt," Susan L. Pollet says that "[t]he results of our research show that of the states that have statutory language that specifically refer to stepparents, 8 states have statutes regarding their custody rights, 11 states have statutes regarding their visitation rights, 15 states have statutes regarding their child support obligations, and 44 states have statutes regarding their adoption rights. Of the states that have statutory language referring to the rights of third parties, 20 states have statutes regarding their custody rights, 13 states have statutes regarding their visitation rights, 3 states have statutes regarding their child support obligations, and 6 states have statutes regarding their adoption rights. We also researched the inheritance rights of stepchildren and found that 19 states have statutory language regarding their inheritance rights if their stepparent dies intestate.
"Additionally, some of the states that do not have statutory language regarding stepparents have case law pertaining to stepparents. We researched further and noted the following: 5 states have case law regarding their custody rights, 12 states have case law regarding their visitation rights, 19 states have case law regarding their child support obligations, and 2 states have case law regarding inheritance rights. Moreover, of the states that have case law pertaining to third parties, 4 states have case law regarding their custody rights, 3 states have case law regarding their visitation rights and 1 state has case law regarding child support obligations."
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