Rights of a Stepdad vs. the Biological Father

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

Rights of a Stepdad vs. the Biological Father

By Bryan Driscoll, J.D.

Every state gives great legal preference to the rights of a biological father over those of a stepfather. But that doesn't mean stepfathers don't have any rights. They also have legal options at their disposal.

Father and daughter sitting on a couch working on a laptop together

As a stepfather, you care deeply for your children. You feed them, nourish them, and laugh with them. You also want to make sure your legal rights are protected so you can continue to grow that relationship.

Stepfathers Have Fewer Rights

Every U.S. state's laws favor the rights of biological parents over all others. States want to keep a family intact so long as doing so is in the best interest of the child.

Special circumstances do exist. If a child is being abused, neglected, or abandoned, states allow for the rights of biological parents to be reduced or even removed. But even if these extreme circumstances do not exist in your situation, you still have options as a stepfather.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person to give up certain rights to another individual. Though it would take the cooperation of your stepchild's biological father, you can request a power of attorney.

If you are living with your spouse and her biological child, requesting the biological father sign a power of attorney is a great first step. With this document, you are able to make decisions on behalf of your stepchild. You can help with medical decisions, school selections, and other legal decisions.

Adopting Your Stepchild

You always have the option of adopting your stepchild. If your stepchild's biological father is unwilling or unable to continue in his duties as a father, you can file for adoption.

This is not a small decision to make. It is a time-consuming and costly process. If the biological father is still in the picture, it can also become an extremely emotional process. If the biological father doesn't agree to the adoption, then you need to have legitimate grounds to terminate his parental rights. These grounds include abuse, neglect, and desertion, among others. If adoption is the path you choose, once complete, you will assume all the legal rights as if you are the biological father.

Stepchild in Your Will

If you decide adoption is not the path for you, you can still include your stepchild in your inheritance. This is true even if you later decide to divorce the child's mother. By naming your stepchild in your will, you can leave items of sentimental value to them.

This is a great way to show your love for your stepchild. It also ensures they receive an inheritance from you. If you do not adopt your stepchild, you have no legal relationship to them. As a result, they will not inherit anything from you unless you specifically name them in your will.

Having a stepchild in your life is a rewarding experience. Though the court gives legal preference to your stepchild's biological father, there are actions you can take to change this. These options are especially important if your stepchild's relationship with their biological father is not in their best interest. By having an open conversation with your stepchild's mother, the two of you can determine which course is best for your relationship.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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