B.S. v. T.S. – Calling a Step-Parent “Mom” or “Dad”

After a divorce, it is common for one or both parties to move on, have a new relationship, and remarry.  When the parties share children, the new step-parent will hopefully have a strong and positive relationship with the children, providing extra support and love for the children.  Unfortunately, it is also common for the former spouse to have some conflict with the step-parent and can sometimes feel the step-parent is overstepping important boundaries.  In B.S. v. T.S., a New Jersey court had to address this type of situation.

In that case, the parties were divorced in 2010.  Several years later, the husband remarried.  The parties shared a child who was eight years old at the time the husband remarried.  The child would sometimes call his step-mother “mom,” which the child’s natural mother believed infringed on the mother-child relationship she shared with the child.  She filed a motion with the court requesting that the father and step-mother not permit the child to ever call the step-mother “mom,” and that the child needs to always refer to the step-mother by her first name instead.  The court interviewed the child in chambers, away from both the natural mother and the step-mother.  The court determined that the child used both the step-mother’s first name and “mom” interchangeably to refer to the step-mother.  The court also found that the child had started using the term “mom” to refer to her under his own volition, and neither the father nor the step-mother had suggested to him that he do so.  The child had a positive relationship with both of his natural parents, as well as with the step-mother.  The court also determined the child was experiencing no confusion about who was actually his natural mother, and instead used “mom” to refer to the step-mother more as a term of endearment.  Ultimately the court held that if a child is of sufficient age and maturity to make the decision, then the child may make the decision on how he or she will refer to a step-parent.  The natural parents may not force the child to refer to a step-parent in any particular way.

Cases involving step-parents can present some delicate problems.  at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment to discuss your child and whether the relationship between the child and the step-parent is appropriate.

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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