Step-parents have unique roles in the life of the children of their spouses. These step-parents often form deep and lasting bonds with the children, and in optimal situations, can become like another parent. If the step-parent and the biological parent get divorced, however, the step-parent’s role in the child’s life becomes much more uncertain. Barring exceptional circumstances, such as adoption or other extraordinary situations, the step-parent typically has no rights to the child following the divorce. It is possible, though, for the biological parent to agree to allow the step-parent to continue to have contact and sometimes visits with the child or children. Due to the unique place occupied by the step-parent, the issue sometimes becomes whether a step-parent can or should be compelled to pay child support following a divorce from the biological parent.
In the vast majority of cases, a step-parent cannot be compelled to pay child support for a step-child after a divorce. This is logical, as following the divorce, a step-parent typically has no right to the child and is, in legal terms, no different than any other stranger off the street. That is, the step-parent has no rights to the child, and therefore should not be compelled to have any monetary obligation to the child.
In some cases, in the past, though, step-parents in New Jersey have been found to be obligated to pay child support for step-children following a divorce. In Miller v. Miller, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed this issue. In that case, the Supreme Court determined that a step-parent had to pay child support using the doctrine of “equitable estoppel.” This doctrine means that if one party relies on a promise made by the other party, then the promising party should be held to those promises. In that case, the step-father had interfered with the mother’s receipt of child support from the biological father, supported the step-children as his own, and became emotionally essential to the children, even giving them his last name. The Supreme Court determined that following the divorce, the step-father should not be able to go back on his promises and representations that he was willing to support the children, especially as he had interfered with the relationship between the biological father and the children.If you are facing issues concerning child support and a step-parent, you need an experienced attorney to help you with your case. Contact us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment to talk about your divorce.