Am I a Legal Guardian to My Stepchild?

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Lead Guardianship of a Minor

In the legal world, the guardianship of a child refers to someone who is caring for a child who is not the child’s biological parent. So, it would seem that a stepparent fits the definition of a guardian.

However, unless the stepparent has established legal guardianship by filing the right papers with the court, he or she has no right to make decisions about a stepchild’s medical care, schooling, or other essential needs. All that responsibility and power lies with the biological parents.

This circumstance can be a painful reality for some stepparents to accept since they are often deeply involved in the stepchild’s day-to-day care and are emotionally attached. It also can cause practical complications.  

If a stepchild is hurt, and a quick medical decision is necessary, the stepparent has no legal authority to make that decision

Potential Problems from Not Having Guardianship

  • If a stepchild is hurt, and a quick medical decision is necessary, the stepparent has no legal authority to make that decision.
  • If the stepchild’s biological parent goes out of town for work or is in the military and deployed, the stepparent can’t make important decisions on behalf of their stepchild—even it is as simple as signing a permission form to go on a school field trip.
If a stepparent wants more rights to make decisions on behalf of their stepchild, they have to establish legal guardianship.

How to Get Guardianship of a Child

Legal guardianship is usually considered in the following circumstances:
  • Parent(s) are absent or considered unfit to care for a child
  • Parent(s) are imprisoned
  • Parent(s) voluntarily give up parental rights
  • A single parent gets married
Legal guardianship can be granted for a short length of time (a few weeks or months) or more permanently until a minor child turns 18. A guardian is appointed by either a court of law or the biological parents themselves.

Some states also have options for parents to delegate parental powers to a stepparent through a power of attorney. A power of attorney may give a non-parent the right to make decisions for a child for a specified timeframe or specific activities. These rights include activities such as taking the child to the doctor or on a vacation.
Legal guardianship laws are different in every state

Laws Differ from State to State

Legal guardianship laws are different in every state, so you should contact a family law attorney or speak to the clerk of courts in your county court to learn more.

If legal guardianship doesn’t sound like the best option for you, another possibility for a stepparent is to adopt their stepchild. Learn more in our blog, What to expect when adopting your stepchild.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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