Legal help for Parents
May 2, 2006 8:19 PM   Subscribe

My wife has two kids from a previous marriage. Can I consider myself, legally, to be their step Father? (If so, does that entail any certain rights as such?) Should or can I adopt them? Since the Mom and I have raised them for most of their lives (90%), we would like to do something (together) to set them up in case something happens to us. Death etc. M.I.

We don't have any animosity towards the bio-Dad, he's cool for the most part, but we would like to do something in writing that is legal to provide some certainty for the kid's future, ie; THEY will get our assets, WE will choose their caretakers etc.

I've not had any problems with school, medical etc., but if one or both of us kicks off, I want to know (ahead of time) that they will have what they need.
posted by snsranch to Law & Government (14 answers total)
IANAL, but I didn't think that "step-father" meant anything other than "mom's new husband", legally speaking. I don't think it actually represents any kind of direct legal relationship with/about/related-to your wife's kids.

In other words, I'm pretty sure that "step-father" isn't a legal term of art.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:23 PM on May 2, 2006

I'm with Steven. You're definitely their stepfather, but whether that means anything in any legal sense... well, NFI but I doubt it.
posted by pompomtom at 8:31 PM on May 2, 2006

Steven C. Den Beste is right. I've had a stepfather for thirteen years and as far as I can tell it has no legal meaning.

You probably need to see a lawyer to see what specifically your rights towards these children are, particularly if your wife dies and you don't. As this previous thread details, the children would almost certainly go to live with their surviving biological parent.

You can adopt them, but that's a good way to really piss off the biological father.

In any event, any assets you and your wife choose to leave them, in whatever form you dictate, would go to them. Just make sure you get around to writing your will and actually taking care of the details.
posted by BackwardsCity at 8:33 PM on May 2, 2006

IANAL but.... You're definitely their stepfather, but it's not necessarily a legal term. In the cases of legally binding divorce/marriage, there's pretty strong precedent for it being a legal term, for all intents and purposes. Either way, it might be a good idea to draft a will with your wife where your wishes are made known.
posted by fvox13 at 8:44 PM on May 2, 2006

I'm virtually certain you cannot adopt without his permission, because that would totally sever his legal relationship with the kids. If you become their father, then he wouldn't be any longer.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:49 PM on May 2, 2006

Whether or not you are their stepfather has no bearing on how you might help them out after you've passed on. You shouldn't be leaving their future up to state intestacy laws.

You can set up a trust that names your wife and them as beneficiaries during their lives or whatever. Go to a lawyer who knows estate planning, and this should be relatively easy.
posted by MrZero at 8:57 PM on May 2, 2006

Best answer: What's the custody situation? What type of relationship does the bio dad have with the kids? Those questions might help you decide about adoption, which should probably be discussed with the bio dad before anything goes very far (i.e., "How would you feel about..." rather than "So we've decided that...").

Barring adoption, though, your rights will probably be very limited in the event their mother is no longer around. How old are the kids? I assume they're young, because otherwise this would be a moot point soon anyway. You or your wife could always leave them as beneficiaries in a will/insurance policy, regardless of your legal relationship; adoption would only matter until they turn 18, or if one of you dies without a will. But you won't do that, right? Oh, and I guess if they needed to attend to you in a medical emergency or put you in a home or something, it would help to be your lawful child. But otherwise, a mention in a will should suffice for most issues other than custody. IANAL, obviously, so take this friendly advice with a grain of salt.
posted by SuperNova at 9:26 PM on May 2, 2006

Why would the courts not give custody to the biological father if you guys (or just your wife) die? That seems to be the normal way to do things.
posted by Paris Hilton at 9:45 PM on May 2, 2006

My step-brother, now fully adopted brother, was adopted by my father after marrying his mother. The father objected to the adoption proceedings, and the matter ended up in court. My step-brother told the judge that he wanted my father to be his legal father as he is who raised him most of his life. And that's what happened.

I also have a friend who legally adopted his step-son. The biological father in that situation did not have a problem with it.
posted by Roger Dodger at 10:47 PM on May 2, 2006

Best answer: Can I consider myself, legally, to be their step Father?

According to Black's Law Dictionary (6th Ed.):
Step-father. The husband of one's mother by virtue of a marriage subsequent to that of which the person spoken of is the offspring.


Step-parent. The mother or father of a child born during a previous marriage of the other parent and hence, not the natural parent of such child.
So, "Yes."
posted by cribcage at 11:37 PM on May 2, 2006

Best answer: My step father adopted me when I was about 16, even though he and my mother had been separated for 4 years, for the exact same reasons put forth in some of the other replies - if anything had happened to my mother, custody would have pretty much defaulted to my biological father, a man I haven't seen since I was 2. This was out of the question, since at that time his occupation could best be described as "alcoholic drag dealer". My mother met with him to request permission, which he naturally declined to give, and so a month later we all went to family court to argue over me. Bio-dad didn't show, most likely fearing he'd be picked up for some outstanding warrants, and the whole thing lasted about 20 minutes.
posted by chickygrrl at 7:13 AM on May 3, 2006

Best answer: In order to adopt the kids, the bio-dad would have to relinquish all of his parental rights. A judge has to sign off on that, then you have to go through the legal maze to adopt them. Only then would you have any say so about what happens to them if your wife were to die. If she dies the bio-dad would get them (unless he was proven to be an unfit parent).

As far as setting them up, you can leave your assets to anyone you want, related or not.

And IANAL, but I have been in court over kids that were both legitimate and illegitimate, and I have done a lot of research on it. This is pretty much true for all states, although there may be some subtle differences depending upon where you are.
posted by tadellin at 9:12 AM on May 3, 2006

Canadian experience here: my father died when I was 4. My mom remarried a couple of years later, and though my new dad was my stepfather, nothing was legally binding until we did the formal adoption paperwork when I reached majority (for that at least) at 16.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:21 PM on May 3, 2006

Response by poster: This thread is old now, but I've learned some important things . One is how lucky I really am here with this family.

Two is I would never try to keep the kids from their bio-dad. I was initially threatened by him but he recognizes me as the paternal force in the kid's lives. (I'm humlbed by that and it shows me how much he really loves his kids.)

Three is that if the best that can come from my adopting the kids is to hurt their dad, well that was/is not my intention.
posted by snsranch at 5:34 PM on May 5, 2006

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