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Stepparents and the Law

  • Legal Rights of Stepparents: Stepparents can claim decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support if they have acted as a parent to the child.
  • Best Interests of the Child: Courts consider factors like the child's needs, views, and history of care to determine the best interests of the child in custody matters.
  • Child Support Factors: Courts evaluate the stepparent's relationship with the child, financial support provided, and overall parental role to determine child support obligations.
A Child and Stepparent reading a card together

Navigating Decision-Making, Parenting Time, and Child Support

Families come in various shapes and sizes – single parents, same-sex marriages, step-parents, the list goes on. Canadian law has progressed over time to reflect the diversity of families. Regardless of what a family looks like, parental figures play a crucial role in the lives of children. If you’re a stepparent who has recently gone through a separation, keep reading to find out what your legal rights are regarding decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support.

Definition of a "Child of the Marriage"

The definition of “child of the marriage” in the Divorce Act includes “any child of whom one is the parent and for whom the other stands in the place of a parent.” This definition may include stepparents as long as they have acted like a parent to the child. Similarly, the definition of “child” in the Family Law Act is a “person whom a parent has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family.” This can also include stepparents if they have treated the child like their own.

Legal Rights of Stepparents

Stepparents have a legal right to bring claims for decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support. In contrast, biological parents can bring claims against stepparents. When it comes to the court deciding decision-making responsibility and parenting time, they must take into account the child(ren)’s best interests. These are determined by several factors such as the child’s needs according to their age and development stage, the child’s views and preferences, the history of the child’s care, and the ability and willingness of the person(s) seeking an order to meet the child’s needs. If the court finds that it’s in the best interests of the child(ren) for a stepparent to have decision-making responsibility and/or parenting time, they will order it. Further, the court may grant parenting time to a stepparent if doing so is in the best interests of the child(ren), even if both biological parents bring claims against it.

Stepparents and Child Support

When it comes to child support, the court will consider various factors to determine whether a stepparent has a parent-like relationship with the child(ren) in question. This will inform the court’s decision as to whether a stepparent should pay child support and, if so, how much they should pay.

The factors include:

  • How the child feels about their relationship with their stepparent;
  • Whether the stepparent provides financially for the child;
  • Whether the stepparent disciplines the child; and
  • Whether the stepparent expresses themselves as a responsible parent to the child.

If the court orders the stepparent to pay child support based on the factors listed above, the amount will often be calculated differently from that of the biological parents. There is no strict way for the court to determine the amount of support a stepparent will pay, but the court will consider the amount the biological parent is paying. The law seeks to ensure that the parent receiving support is not receiving an excessive amount, as would be the case if both parents paid their respective table amount set out in the Federal Child Support Guidelines.

Seeking Legal Advice

Our team at INB Family Law has the knowledge and experience necessary to help you navigate issues related to decision-making responsibility, parenting time, and child support. Please contact us to us to book your consultation.